DENVER, CO -- Studies show most Americans rarely check the dates on the food products they buy at their local grocery. As a result, they often end-up paying "full price" for food that is long past it's "sell by," "use by" or "best by" date.
Consumer Reporter Mark Koebrich with our news partner 9NEWS checked local grocery retailers in the Denver-area over a four-week period. He found every retailer had expired products on the shelves. None of those products was labeled as such, and they were being sold at full retail.
Koebrich went to King Soopers, Safeway, Albertsons, Walmart, Target and Whole Foods. He surveyed two stores in every chain, and within 15 minutes in each of those stores, he found products with expired dates.
Koebrich found cheese with mold, past-due bakery products, salad dressing and other products in bottles and jars that were also beyond their freshness dates.
King Soopers and other grocery retailers consider this a very serious matter. Store managers have been fired for mishandling a complaint or not working to correct the problem.
A recent Harvard Law School's Food Law and Policy clinical study says expired foods are not dangerous. It also says the dates on food items are simply "indicators" that encourage stores to sell a product within a specific time frame so the item still has some shelf life in your home.
One main question the majority of 9NEWS viewers had about the expired food was: "How fair is it that consumers are paying the same price for expired products as they are for products that are not expired?"
There are discount grocery operations in the area that sell expired products at up to 30 percent off the retail price.
Another question viewers had is: "How does expired food go unnoticed at the store?"
Tom Caddell, the Executive Director of the nonprofit World Alliance for Retail Excellence and Standards, says the problem for groceries is largely manpower. Like so many companies, he says, the grocery retailers have cut back.
"Every department is under the gun with really tight manhours." Caddell said.
As a result he says, stocking crews are often having to un-pack and put away twice as much product as they use to shelve.
Caddell says that workers could be shelving 150 to 175 cases per man hour per shift; whereas, 10 to 15 years ago the number of cases was in the 60s.
According to Caddell, this means virtually no one is rotating product or moving older product to the front of the shelf
"They don't pull it forward like the old days," he said. "In the old days, everything was pulled forward and fronted."
The result is the items with expired dates that consumers find.
Consumers should know the big grocers will refund almost any product you are not happy with.
One helpful tip for consumers: instead of reaching to the "back" of a display to get what you think might be the newest or latest stocking of a product, grab an item from the front. Those are most likely to be the freshest products on shelf.
Also, big grocers donate hundreds of tons of out of date food to food banks, and sell the rest to discount grocery operations.
2 Wants To Know found similar things happening here in the Triad. In July 2013, we checked food after a viewer emailed us about expired items at her local convenience store. We found several expired products including a bag of Chex Mix and sunflower seeds with expiration dates in 2011.
A quick call to the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and we found out selling expired items isn't illegal in North Carolina. The only two items you can't sell expired are baby formula and over the counter drugs. So that means dairy, meat, eggs and the snacks can in fact be sold past their expiration date.
The big take away here for you, is buyer beware. It is your responsibility to look at the dates and then decide if you're willing to buy.
KUSA 9/ WFMY News 2