Let The “Sell By” Date Fit The Crime


SEI has recently taken a very aggressive stance towards out-of-date products in our stores, issuing Letters of Notifications (LONs) and breaches even for out-of-date goods that are in the back room and not readily available for purchase by a customer. Has paranoia run rampant within SEI? Franchisees are NOT trying to poison our customers. In this instance the punishment seems excessive, especially considering the true meaning behind these “expiration” dates.

Recently, there has been national awareness regarding the date placed on food items for American consumers. The date on a product can mean many things. Some products have a date that shows a “use by” date. Other products have a “sell by” date or “best by” date. So what do these dates really mean?

The truth is the dates are placed to help stores manage their inventory. It is to encourage stores to sell a product within a specific time frame so the item still has a shelf life once it’s purchased. The “best by” or “use by” label does not indicate a deadline after which the product will go bad, but instead is an estimate of how long a product will be at peak quality. The Natural Resources Defense Council estimates that as much as 40 percent of the country’s food supply is needlessly thrown out because consumers don’t fully understand this, and a recent article in the Los Angeles Times stated that up to 90 percent of Americans prematurely discard edibles because they misinterpret the dates stamped on products.

Doug Rauch, the former CEO of Trader Joe’s, recently told grist.org that he wants to open a store to sell expired or nearly expired food that is discarded by other stores. He’d theoretically like to open several stores in lower income areas to help residents eat healthier meals and tackle problems such as obesity and diabetes.

In view of this, one has to ask why SEI is so quick to issue LONs and breaches for dated products. There are more than 2,000 items in a typical 7-Eleven store. Even the most diligent order writer cannot check the date on every item and remember to pull the item on the expiration date. They may not even be working on that specific date.

SEI itself has arbitrarily changed the holding time for roller grill and hot food items, sometimes increasing the holding time and for other items decreasing the holding time. Many times SEI has ignored the manufacture’s established shelf life and reduced the shelf life to meet their own unexplained criteria.

The question is what will SEI do to encourage the proper disposition of expired or nearly expired food products so they can meet the dietary needs of those less fortunate via food banks, shelters and community kitchens? Instead of punishing us for not pulling expired or nearly expired items in a timely manner, SEI should develop a system that allows us to give these products to organizations that help feed the needy, since much of this food is still edible. Properly documented donations of these products can also have significant tax implications that can benefit a franchisee’s tax burden. Why can’t SEI help franchisees turn expired products into a carrot rather than using it as a stick?