Chicken Chat

This is the last of two updates before I get back to posting about my experiences working in a grocery store produce section (“The Produce Project”).

On Wednesday, we talked about supermarkets throwing away rotisserie chickens after five hours. I asked Dr. Angela Fraser, a food safety expert at N.C. State University about this topic and she e-mailed that North Carolina and the FDA food code allow a store to display an item for four hours. N.C. law permits stores to sell chickens for longer if they make sure their temperature stays above 140 degrees. Those of you who can’t get enough food safety info, check out page 97 of the FDA Public Health guidelines.

Ron Hedrick, a health inspector in Orange County, N.C., told me that most supermarkets pull their chickens after four hours. Echoing Fraser, he said most stores don’t remove chickens for food safety reasons, though. “If they want to go a little longer, they’re allowed to do so as long as the chicken stays at 140 or above,” Hedrick said. “Stores that throw away birds after four hours, it’s a quality decision…maybe the product dries out or the skin gets tough.”

Sounds like something I wouldn’t pay full price for, but it doesn’t sound like trash. That’s where food recovery groups step in. Hedrick said that the stores could easily donate the chickens if they refrigerated them down to 45 degrees in four hours.

The Inter-Faith Food Shuttle, the main food recovery group in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area, recovers food from the store where I saw the five birds sent to the dumpster. But because IFFS is 20 miles away, there are plenty of stores closer to their headquarters and their budget isn’t infinite, the non-profit only collects from this store when its manager calls with an exceptionally large donations. For example, when the store rearranges its freezers and is forced to donate hundreds of pounds of frozen food. 

Smaller amounts–and yes, five birds is considered small–fall to the dumpster. “I wish they’d call us when they’re throwing away chicken,” said Dennis Wooten, the Warehouse Manager. “We’re low on meat now, so I’d love to have those chickens.”

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  1. […] But from where I’m sitting, selling day old sushi isn’t completely crazy. The alternative would be to do what my local supermarket does–throw out their rotisserie chickens after five hours. Sure, they’re protecting their image of freshness, but they’re wasting a great deal of food in the process. In addition, learning that an item the store would sell you one minute becomes trash the next can alienate customers. […]