Outing Waste

Friday, I got a hot tip that a nearby Noodles & Company had closed due to a power outage. I zoomed over to see whether there’d be widespread food waste panic, but they’d reopened by the time I arrived.

photo by Anthony Pranata (via Creative Commons)The woman behind the counter said that they’d thrown out a few things, but not much. Apparently, they kept the walk-in ‘fridge closed and put other perishables on ice.

Next door at Chipotle, they put everything back in the walk-in, which presumably remained under the magic 40-degree mark and out of the Danger Zone (the bacteria one, not the other kind.)

Fortunately, the power was only out for two hours. Crisis averted. Yet, what happens when the electricity remains off even longer?

I was surprised to learn that the complex (with four other restaurant chains), doesn’t have a backup generator. I know that some supermarkets, even with their abundance of frozen and refrigerated foods, don’t invest in generators.

Many of you have probably had to throw away food after a prolonged power outage–unless it’s during the winter or you act quickly with ice and a cooler. Yet, has anyone witnessed a supermarket or restaurant tossing food due to a lack of electricity?

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  1. Emily
    Posted October 27, 2008 at 10:27 am | Permalink

    Jon, here at the Durham office of Viget Labs we are happy to keep you abreast of all food waste events (or potential events). Glad to know you were ON THE SCENE so quickly after we called.

    I’ve never witnessed a mass trashing due to power outages, but surely some locals who have lived here longer than I have would have seen that kind of thing happen during the various ice storms a few years back. It might be cool to chat with a supermarket manager about that experience.

    One thing I DID notice this weekend is that Trader Joe’s has freezer bins without lids or doors. Surely this is a huge waste of energy, no? Not your area of expertise, I know, but an odd choice for them nonetheless.

  2. Stephanie
    Posted October 27, 2008 at 10:55 am | Permalink

    In Louisville, KY, the remnants of Hurricane Ike generated a windstorm that left parts of the city out of power for weeks.

    At the Kroger’s down the street, they had to throw away a massive amount of food. It was so much that they stationed guards at the dumpsters to prevent any scavenging.

  3. Molly
    Posted October 27, 2008 at 11:58 am | Permalink

    A few weeks ago there was another power outage that affected a large part of the UNC campus. To avoid wasting food that was already cooked but couldn’t be kept warm one of the cafeterias in the med-school complex started giving food to all takers for free. As far as I know they didn’t lose anything in the freezers/fridge.

  4. Jonathan
    Posted October 27, 2008 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

    Emily, I’ll have to get up with a local supermarket manager or two to see if they have any stories to tell.

    And I’m glad I live closer to UNC Hospitals than that Louisville Kroger. I’ve heard of locking dumpsters, but guarding them?!

  5. jodi
    Posted October 31, 2008 at 12:08 am | Permalink

    I worked at a large grocery store for ten years, and twice we lost electricity for extended periods….24 and 36 hours.

    The store went into “emergency mode”, meaning every manager had to come in, and also managers from our other stores in nearby cities. No employees were allowed to leave until given the ok by the store manager, usually after 12 hours of work.

    First thing, all meat and seafood was immediately taken back into one of the many walk-in coolers. Management ordered “refer” trucks (refrigerated/frozen) trucks, and we had to throw most frozen and cold food into shopping carts, which were then placed on the trucks. This takes A LOT of work, and we had to work FAST. Some frozen food was left in the “coffin cases” (floor freezers), and we laid dry ice and insulating blankets on them.

    Employees were allowed to eat any food on the hot and cold food bars, and any prepared deli sandwiches.

    One outage was in the dead of winter, and it was so cold outside that we were able to put all the ice cream outside, lol

    Luckily, we didn’t lose hardly any foods at all.

    The worst part about the whole thing, though, is putting ALL THE FOOD BACK after the electricity was restored. That was a total nightmare that took an entire day.

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