Operating in the shadows is easy in the United States secondary food market, as few question what happens to food that exceeds its expiration date in leading supermarket chains across the nation. Well, truth be told, expired food gets reprocessed, repackaged, relabeled, and resold to institutions, discount retailers and restaurants.
With scant regulations in place for repurposed food, and institutional purchasing specifications silent, food liquidators underbid their competitors and win contracts nearly every time. In the secondary food market, you get what you pay for, and never has the saying “garbage in, garbage out” been more appropriate.
No matter how much hot sauce or gravy is added as camouflage, spoiled food products are unfit for human consumption and cause foodborne illness. Here, what you don’t know can kill you.
In its most recent public report posted on its website, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimate that, each year, roughly 1 in 6 Americans (or 48 million people) get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die of foodborne diseases. However, “recent” is a misnomer here as the CDC’s report is shamelessly outdated by more than ten years. It was issued in January 2011.
Considering that food poisoning is an embarrassing indicator that reveals in its gory horror the systemic corruption of what turns out to be an unregulated food market, it is highly probable that there was undercounting back in 2011—especially in institutional settings. And it is more than likely that things are even worse in 2022.
When oversight agency reports are no longer published, it is clearly because industry statistics and agency performance metrics do not look good. Cover-ups at the federal level are routinely done by appointing incompetent or industry-compromised agency heads, and by defunding key reporting departments, and reducing analytic staff positions and field inspectors.
Despite oversight agency neglect, both schools and prisons have been independently studied for foodborne illness outbreaks. While these reports/articles are also outdated, their shallow analysis remains current. The accepted prevailing narrative blames foodborne illness outbreaks on food handlers that failed to follow U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) protocols for cleanliness and neglected to maintain the proper temperatures for food storage and service.
While not to detract from standards set by the USDA, there are no reports that expose the lethal dangers of the secondary food market. Moreover, unlike the primary food market, these repackaging facilities are not inspected, despite their erroneous claims of USDA or FDA certifications.
A media spokesperson for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) explained that “the FDA doesn’t oversee meat and poultry, only dairy products.” And that “expiration dates are not regulated, only food safety.”
This is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, food that is spoiled, contaminated, or toxic but within its expiration date is unquestionably unfit for human consumption. On the other hand, expiration dates are necessary as packaging, coloring and processing conceal food quality from consumers, as well as purchasing agents and food handlers.
When a food product’s expiration date is concealed by repackaging and relabeling, all food safety bets are off. The reselling of expired food is a black market in broad daylight.