The ethical dilemma over leftover food - GulfToday

The ethical dilemma over leftover food

Birjees Hussain

She has more than 10 years of experience in writing articles on a range of topics including health, beauty, lifestyle, finance, management and Quality Management.

She has more than 10 years of experience in writing articles on a range of topics including health, beauty, lifestyle, finance, management and Quality Management.

The ethical dilemma over leftover food

Some countries have little to no regulations governing handling of food products, including the leftover food.

Did you ever wonder what supermarkets and restaurants do with certain types of leftover food at the end of the day?

More than 15 years ago a little old lady went into a leading supermarket and noticed that it was discarding its unsold breads it had baked that same day. Instead of throwing all the bread away she asked the supermarket if they’d be willing to give the leftovers to her. They declined, saying it was company policy to discard. So all that bread, which was probably still good enough to eat, went into the bin. That, to me, is a real shame. Plus, the policy applied to the bread does not make sense.

How does binning perfectly good food benefit a supermarket, especially when the baked goods were made the day they were thrown away? I cannot see a financial benefit nor a social one.

Financially it would make sense if a supermarket were trying to reconcile their books, something every company does with its assets which are sometimes written off because their value is less than when they were purchased. Or, if it’s an electrical or electronic asset, it is written off because the technology is so outdated that it’s better for it to be off their books. In the latter circumstances companies either discard the item or offer it to their staff for free.

But what happens to food? Well, aside from the bread incident I described earlier, what happens largely depends upon the geographical location of the supermarket, hotel or restaurant. As you must be aware, regulations on how food is handled (both cooked and raw) tend to differ from country to country. Whereas some countries have little to no regulations governing handling of food products, there are others where the laws are stringent and strictly regulated and enforced.

Some countries insist that unsold or uneaten food be discarded at the end of the day or when they reach their expiry date. Now, from what I understand from my reading of how expiry dates work, and I urge you to do the same, is the expiry dates have a degree of leeway in that, once the expiry date is reached, the food may still be consumable up to a certain date, provided that it is stored properly. I don’t know how much truth there is to this and I’m sure this may apply to only certain types of consumables. Certain foods like raw and cooked chicken, meat, dairy products and certain nuts may be inedible, unless they were frozen shortly after being picked or cooked or on the date they expired.

Some supermarkets reduce the price of some expired goods but only for a limited period at the end of which they send the unsold, expired product back to the supplier.

But what about foods that has been prepared that very day but did not get sold? Depending upon the geographic location of the outlet and the applicable food regulations in force, some have to discard the food after closing time. Often they do this because either local or national regulations require them to or because it’s a company policy.

I can understand the need to comply with mandatory government regulations and if that is indeed the reason for having to discard food at the end of the day, so be it. But is it okay to discard food when the food outlet or supermarket has the option to not discard it but do something good with it? The unused food could go to a homeless shelter or donated to local charities, or to food banks.

In fact, many restaurants that are not bound by government regulations do one of many things with their leftovers from the day. If the food has been untouched they either donate it to a good cause like a food bank or an after school programme to feed hungry children before they go home or they allow their employees to take the food home. Some, however, prefer to sell the food at reduced price to patrons who are made aware that it may have been prepared the day before.

I hope that, where food regulations allow establishments to donate unsold cooked food, establishments donate it to the hungry in their community, provided of course it is still hygienic and was properly stored during the day and at the time it was donated.

The worse thing anyone can do is to donate food that has been partially eaten or stored improperly. That would be a sin in my opinion and a safety hazard.

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