how retailers can avoid food waste and meat expiration

3 Ways Retailers Can Cut Down on Grocery Spoilage and Avoid Expired Meat

Nov 5, 2021

While the past two years have presented no shortage of new challenges for the food supply chain, one consistent challenge remains: reducing food waste. Before the pandemic, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated 30%-40% of the food supply goes to waste[1]Where it goes to waste can vary, but consumers and retailers make up 31% of the food lost[2]. According to the most recent data, the USDA estimated in-store food losses at 16 billion pounds, with wasted food from the retail sector valued at almost twice the profit from food sales[3]. That’s a significant amount of food—and an equally substantial amount of money lost.

Since grappling with COVID-19, we’ve seen food waste worsen due to panic buying from consumers and supply chain disruptions[4]. However, there may be a silver lining—experts note that while the pandemic exacerbated the food waste problem, it also made consumers more aware of it.

“Seeing every day how much their household throws away and how quickly their garbage and recycling bins fill has made consumers more waste-conscious,” said Rick Stein, VP of fresh foods for FMI, in a recent article by Winsight Grocery Business[5].

As both consumers and retailers bounce back from the effects of the pandemic, we can expect more focus on food waste reduction and food spoilage prevention. Here are some ways you can start to prioritize this goal, get ahead of food waste regulations, and show consumers you share their values.

1. Commit to zero food waste in your grocery store (and set a target date).

Several major grocery chains have recently committed to ambitious waste reduction goals or zero food waste in their stores. Kroger, for example, established a “Zero Hunger | Zero Waste” vision in 2017 with the aim to eliminate food waste by 2025. Kroger planned to achieve this initiative by using a combination of prevention, donation, and diversion efforts, including partnering with Feeding America and the World Wildlife Fund[6].

Walmart, Food Lion, and other retailers have also implemented food waste reduction efforts, such as spoilage forecasting and digital ordering tools. Internationally, some chains have adopted apps that alert consumers about discounted excess food so they can buy it before it goes to waste[7]. All these efforts are effective, practical steps toward curbing the food waste problem.

Forming a zero food waste commitment at your store—and selecting an ideal date by which to achieve it—is the first step to creating significant, quantifiable reductions. After setting the goal and timeline, decide which efforts work best for your store, whether it’s offering sales on items about to expire or diverting excess products to food pantries rather than landfills. Stay up to date on apps and technologies that can simplify or automate these efforts.

2. Educate consumers on expiration dates and food spoilage prevention.

One of the main reasons for food waste at both retail and consumer stages is concern about food spoilage—and confusion about expiration dates. In retail, shoppers may be reluctant to purchase groceries that are too close to the expiration date. And the industry’s use of “sell by,” “use by” and “best before” dates is characteristically vague, meaning consumers may assume the product is a food safety risk even if it’s not.

One survey by John Hopkins University indicated that 84% of respondents discarded food near the package date “at least occasionally,” and 37% “always” or “usually” discard food near the package date[8]. In another survey by the Grocery Manufacturer’s Association, 60% of respondents reported discussing what date labels meant at home and 40% said they had disagreements in their homes about throwing products away[9].

The survey results led the Grocery Manufacturer’s Association to launch a campaign for reducing consumer confusion. However, there are still inconsistencies in product labeling, as well as a lack of resources on how consumers can extend the shelf life of their products.

Jonna Parker quote - eductating conumers to extend grocery freshness

“There’s an ‘opportunity to expand consumer education on how to store to extend shelf life [of fresh products].’” – Jonna Parker, Principal, Fresh Center of Excellence, IRI[10]

Providing consumer education about food spoilage prevention, how long meat is safe after expiration dates, and which products are consumable after a “best before” date can help your store in several ways. For one, it can encourage product purchase closer to the best before or expiration date. It also shows customers you value their health, wellness, and satisfaction with your products, something that will be crucial on the heels of the pandemic. And it can potentially curb excess food waste in consumers’ homes.

Answering frequently asked questions about expiration dates and grocery spoilage in your store and online is a start. Provide clear, accurate, and consistent messaging around the following questions:

  • How long does meat last in the fridge?
  • How long does meat last in the freezer?
  • How long is meat safe after the sell-by date?
  • What is the expiration date of ground beef/steaks/fresh meat?

While this information varies by product, packaging, and brand, education about labeling and storage methods goes a long way in empowering consumers.

3. Carry vacuum-sealed fresh products.

It’s no secret that fresh products are the most-often wasted. Recent estimates show that fruits and vegetables make up 32.9% of total wasted food and meat, poultry, fish, and dairy make up 30.6%. These numbers are likely influenced by food spoilage and consumer concerns about food safety risks.

sally lyons watt quote about environmentally responsible groceries

“Meal-makers and occasion-based solutions that also align with consumers’ desire to be more environmentally and socially responsible … can generate lucrative loyalty from some of the biggest spenders in fresh.” – Sally Lyons Wyatt, Executive Vice President and Practice Leader, Client Insights, IRI[11]

Case-ready products can help mitigate some of these concerns. Vacuum sealing locks in freshness and minimizes the product’s exposure to air, creating a consistent shelf life and quality control. Case-ready meats allow for portion control, appealing to health-minded shoppers and curbing food waste from excess portions. Case-ready packaging also creates the opportunity for communicating product features, including expiration dates of fresh meats and preparation guidelines. And vacuum-sealed products can be easily frozen for future use while reducing the risk of freezer burn or discoloration.

Case-ready meats also help extend freshness while on store shelves. Some case-ready products have shelf lives up to 28 days, meaning retailers don’t have to change products as often or have them spoil while still on the shelves. It helps retailers navigate some of the challenges of the cold supply chain while avoiding product waste in the store.

Contact us for more information on how case ready meats set your store apart.

Give your patrons natural beef they’ll crave by name

Offering Natural Angus beef elevates the consumer experience, providing your customers with a premium product they can use to create restaurant-worthy dishes at home. Aspen Ridge® beef provides a responsible option for enjoying dishes your customers know and love.

Learn about Aspen Ridge’s sustainability initiatives, natural beef products for retail, or more about how we can help you reduce food waste in your store. Or, follow our LinkedIn or Industry Insights page for the latest in retail and meat industry trends!



[1] USDA. “Food Waste FAQs.”

[2] USDA. “Food Waste FAQs.”

[3] RTS. Food Waste in America in 2021. 2021.

[4] WBUR. “Food Waste Worsens Amid Pandemic.” 2020.

[5] Grace, Christine LaFave. “Waste Not: How the Pandemic Shifted Shoppers’ Sustainability Priorities.” Winsight Grocery Business. 2021.

[6] Skrovan, Sandy. “Kroger plans to eliminate food waste by 2025.” Grocery Dive. 2017.–kroger-plans-to-eliminate-food-waste-by-2025/534682/

[7] Helmer, Jodi. “Supermarkets Dig into the Challenge of Food Waste.” FoodPrint. 2021.

[8] Wood-Wright, Natalie. “Widespread confusion about food safety labels leads to food waste, survey finds.” The Hub. Johns Hopkins University. 2019.

[9] Siegner, Cathy. “New food date labels provide clarity consumers need, survey says.” Food Dive. 2018.

[10] Grace, Christine LaFave. “Waste Not: How the Pandemic Shifted Shoppers’ Sustainability Priorities.” Winsight Grocery Business. 2021.

[11] Grace, Christine LaFave. “Waste Not: How the Pandemic Shifted Shoppers’ Sustainability Priorities.” Winsight Grocery Business. 2021.