After the government shutdown last year left the commissary closed Oct. 2 to 6, stores found themselves with a sizable amount of food that they could not sell thanks to expiration dates, but was not bad enough to be trashed.
So the Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA) got permission from the Defense Department (DoD) to donate it instead of taking it to the dumpster. The result? Over $250,000 in food donated to 72 food banks nationwide.
Now officials have made that kind of relationship the norm.
Food banks generally accept food items up to six months past their "expiration" (or "best buy") dates. However, the store is not permitted to sell the food after those dates. That means that food that has hit an "expiration date" or, in the case of produce, isn't the highest quality has to leave the shelves. And if it isn't donated it instead is headed to the trash.
But the new program keeps that from happening. Instead food considered "unsellable but eatable" is donated, according to DeCA officials.
"For example, items such as produce which has been culled (removed from the sales floor) as the product is no longer sellable due to spoilage of the product - customers would not purchase nor would we attempt to sell the product as we only provide the highest quality of product for our customers," said Kevin Robinson, a spokesman for DeCA. "All products are inspected by the medical food inspectors prior to donation to ensure it is still eatable."
Included in the program is 110 stateside commissaries diverting food to 77 food banks that have been approved by the DoD -- and that number continues to grow, they said.
While DeCA does not usually measure donations by value, they do measure it by pounds. During fiscal 2013, which ended last October, DeCA donated 638,582 pounds," said Randy Eller, deputy director of DeCA's logistics division in a news release.
This year they are on track to donate about 1.5 million, he said. Still, patrons and commissary watchdogs shouldn't concerned about the quantity of money spent on unsellable food that poundage represents, he said.
"This may sound like a lot, and the food banks are certainly grateful, but edible, unsellable product amounts to less than 1 percent of what we sell worldwide. We strive for as little loss as possible to remain efficient and effective," he said.