Metro grocers caught selling out-of-date food
Store-by-store breakdown of out-dated products and official statements:
When you go to the grocery store, you expect to find fresh food.
But a 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS investigation found hundreds of products being sold for full price at Twin Cities supermarkets that are weeks, months, even years old.
The investigation began with a tip from a viewer. Lisa Cook from St. Paul said she bought a jar of mayonnaise at a Twin Cities grocer. When she got home, she discovered the jar was out-of-date.
Cook said, "You feel cheated. You feel robbed. You feel like you just been had."
After receiving Cook's tip and other's like it, 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS went to seven supermarkets representing the major chains. An undercover shopper visited the stores in April.
The investigation led to the discovery of hundreds of products with 'sell-by' or 'use-by' dates long since past.
The date on the package is not regulated by the government, but by manufacturers. They decide how long their product will stay fresh and when it should be pulled from shelves.
At the Super Target in St. Paul's Midway neighborhood, a worker assured us we wouldn't find out-dated meats.
The worker told our undercover shopper, "We pull them off a day early than their actual expiration date."
But despite the reassurance, 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS found found a shelf of out-dated smokies sausage, some over-due pork loin filet, and Bob Evans pork sausage that was three months past its 'use-by' date.
5 EYEWITNESS NEWS found out-dated meat at five of the seven stores we visited including a turkey breast at the Lunds in Bloomington 19 days past due and Lunds-brand sausage, ten days past its 'use-by' date.
A worker at that store told our undercover shopper items sometimes get stuck in the back of a shelf.
When asked if the shelves are checked nightly, the worker said, "You'd be amazed how much stuff we miss every day."
At the Rainbow Foods in Plymouth 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS found out-dated Hamburger Helper from December and Eight O'Clock-brand coffee that's time was up ten months ago.
A stock worker was not surprised.
He told the undercover shopper, "With the lack of help with the economy and all that, stores are cutting hours. There's not as many people running down the aisles anymore, you know, checking on that kind of stuff."
5 EYEWITNESS NEWS showed the out-dated meats, milk and more to Dr. Pete Snyder from the Hospitality Institute of Technology and Management.
He said, "Here's the proof: they don't have control of their stores."
For 30 years, Snyder has trained government food inspectors, restaurants, retailers, and grocery stores on food handling and safety.
"I think you'll embarrass some very good grocery stores, embarrass them significantly by what you've found," said Synder.
Snyder has even trained some of the managers who are currently running supermarkets in the Twin Cities.
He said, "They all told me their clerks were pulling all this stuff. They said, 'Oh, Dr. Snyder, we got this under control. We know when a product is out of date. We don't sell out of date product.'"
He also said, "That isn't what the manufacturer intended. The manufacturer said, 'If you want the best flavor, you use it by the date I put on there.'"
Synder said foods past their due date aren't dangerous.
He said, "You're not going to die. You're just going to be serving lousy food, off-flavor food."
The oldest product was a dusty box of Brownberry stuffing from Nov. 27, 2008.
It was still on the shelves 17 months later at the Kowalski's on Lyndale in south Minneapolis along with Hidden Valley dressing with a 'use-by' date of September 2009.
When asked about the products Jim Kowalski, owner of Kowalski's Market, said, "It's totally unacceptable to have outdated merchandise in our stores anytime. We work real hard for that not to happen."
Kowalski's was the only chain where 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS did not find out-dated perishable products like meat, milk, or eggs.
And Kowalski's was the only store to agree to an on-camera interview.
Kowalski said, some products are stocked by the stores, others items by distributors who put them on the shelves directly, all of whom, he said, should be checking the dates.
When asked if the discovery of out-dated food was embarrassing, he said, "If we came into your house and something was not as you like it to be and you didn't realize it was, then of course it's embarrassing. You know, it's not who we are."
The other chains issued statements:
Lunds said what was found on its shelves was "unacceptable" and said it was "redoubling our efforts" at its Bloomington store.
Cub Foods said it has "retrained" its employees and its suppliers.
Target said it was "disappointed" and will "reinforce" its procedures to its employees.
Rainbow Foods said "we apologize" and promised to "recheck" product in all of its stores.
In all of the time shopping, 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS found one employee looking out for the customer.
A cashier at the Rainbow in Plymouth checked each product's date and refused to sell protein bars that were a month past the 'use-by' date.
She told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS she has drilled it into her family to always check the dates on the package.