For the Birds

While buying a rotisserie chicken during a recent 9 p.m. shopping run, I faced a dilemma.   

On my previous trip to the store, the chickens were sold out because they were on sale. But, the clerk told me, on all other days, you can get discounted birds if they’ve sat for four hours. Knowing I was going to make chicken salad, I wasn’t daunted by that prospect. Mindful of this blog, I asked: “What’s the longest they sit?” The woman replied that after five hours, they’re thrown away.

Back to the most recent shopping trip, I found that the available birds were all packaged at around 3:50 pm. It being more than five hours later, I faced a choice: I could buy an old chicken at a small discount (turned out to be $1 off $6.99) or watch the clerk throw them all away. Part of me wanted to say, ‘if you’re going to just toss ’em, can I have one for free?’ Or couldn’t I just take them to somewhere they’d be eaten?

That’s where we get into the tricky world of food safety. Many supermarkets fear donating proteins like chickens because they’re afraid they won’t be handled properly and if someone gets sick, it’ll reflect poorly on the store. The food rescue groups able to get past that fear are ones with food safety training and refrigerated trucks.

I know the supermarket in question donates much food to the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle, which recovers rotisserie chickens from other stores. So what’s the problem? One hang up is that each store in a chain seems to have different ideas on what they will or won’t/can or can’t donate. Each particular store’s manager seems to make that call. Often they blame it on corporate, while corporate says it’s the store’s decision.

I ended up buying a chicken (and just enjoyed the resulting chicken salad pita), but I felt bad about the other birds. If the store cared about not wasting food, wouldn’t they sell the chickens for half-off every night at 9? They could also put older chickens in the refrigerated sections and sell them at a discount. That’s what they did at the grocery store where I worked. And then if they didn’t sell, a church group picked them up the next morning.   

If this store worried that such specials would dent regular sales, why not give them away? It’s not as if this store is afraid that selling discounted food will dent their image of freshness, as some stores claim. On that same trip, I bought four granny smith apples for $1 from the reduced produce shelf. I find this shelf economically and philosophically pleasing. Most reduced produce has one bad spot or slight discoloration. Here you can see the best and worst of the four. 

                                           reduced price rack apples

I’m going to explore this chicken situation when I don my other hat–food sourcing volunteer for a local homeless shelter. I know that the shelter’s kitchen would love to get their hands on five whole birds a night, not to mention any other kind of protein, like the array of fresh-made sandwiches and chicken drumsticks in the nearby deli area.

Next time you’re buying a rotisserie bird, check when it was packaged. You may be purchasing garbage (according to the store’s definition).

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