Ex Trader Joe’s President To Sell Food Past Its Sell-By Date, But Don’t Call It ‘Expired’

When Daily Table opens this spring, you won't see signs like this. (SB)

When Daily Table opens this spring, you won’t see signs like this. (SB)

For months, grocery business watchers have been waiting for the eventual opening of The Daily Table, a store created by former Trader Joe’s president Doug Rauch that will offer food items beyond their “sell by” dates. The problem, says Rauch, isn’t getting the food, it’s convincing consumers that it’s safe to eat.

Rauch recently told Salon.com that it’s often inaccurate to use to the term “expired” when talking about food that is beyond the sell-by date, since many items are perfectly safe for quite some time after the date stamped on the packaging.

A recent study from the Natural Resources Defense Council and Harvard Law’s Food Law and Policy Clinic backs up this idea, pointing out that proper storage of many food items can extend its usability for weeks, months, or years beyond that sell-by date. And yet, the overwhelming majority of American consumers still hold to those dates as point-of-no-return markers for the food in their pantries, fridges and freezers.

A co-author of that study applauds Rauch’s attempt to shatter this widely held illusion.

“Just the fact that he’s doing it, I think is a huge proof point to indicate that what we’re calling ‘expired food’ is in fact still good to eat,” says study co-author Dana Gunders.

Some have accused Rauch of trying to sell rich folks’ refuse to poor people, but he says there’s nothing wrong with offering people perfectly safe products at a reasonable price.

Last fall, he told the NY Times that “I’m interested in only recovering wholesome, healthy food and using that to bring affordable nutrition” to Daily Table customers.

Many families in financially strapped areas of the country end up spending their money on affordable junk food instead of more-expensive, healthier items. The idea behind Daily Table, says Rauch, is that this is one way to make these items more financially feasible for the people who need them, many of whom would eat better if they could.

“When I run down to meetings in the inner city in Boston, I’d say most families know that their kids need to eat better,” he explains to Salon. “Most families know that they’re not giving their kids the nutrition they need. But they just can’t afford it, they don’t have an option.”

And Daily Table won’t just have food that is past its sell-by date when it opens in Dorchester, Mass., this spring. For example, it will also have packaged food and produce that higher-end stores deemed unsellable because of cosmetic reasons that don’t impact taste.

Gunders takes exception with people who deem such food “trash.”

“It’s not trash,” she tells Salon. “That food’s good, and I would eat it and I do eat it. To throw it away, particularly the more nutritious stuff, is a shame.”

Daily Table will also have a café/restaurant aspect to it that uses the food it acquires and turns it into prepared dishes for customers. He told NPR in 2013 that this is something that other grocery stores are doing and just not telling their customers.

“I might say, without naming the names, one of the leading, best regarded brands in the large, national, food industry — they basically recover the food within their stores, cook it up and put it out on their hot trays the next day,” explained Rauch. “That’s the stuff that we’re going to be talking about. We’re talking about taking and recovering food. Most of what we offer will be fruits and vegetables that have a use-by date on it that’ll be several days out.”

Want more consumer news? Visit our parent organization, Consumer Reports, for the latest on scams, recalls, and other consumer issues.