Unused food sold for a token sum by charity initiative

If everything at the grocery store is just $1, you can bet customers will raid the pantry.

And that happened on April 25 at The Food Pantry. But the store, smaller than a three-room flat, is a grocery business with a difference.

The Food Pantry is a project of Food Bank Singapore, a charity initiative started by two siblings who wanted to tackle the problem of food waste here.

The bank takes donations of unused food from food and beverage companies and then distributes the items to the needy. (See report on facing page.)

Whatever is leftover is not left to waste. Instead it ends up at the Pantry and each item is sold for $1.

The money is then used to cover overheads.

Last Monday, the pantry opened for the first time and people streamed in immediately.

By noon, 80 per cent of the goods were gone - just three hours after the store's opening.

Ms Nichol Ng of The Food Bank Singapore says she was surprised by the turnout.

"We didn't expect The Food Pantry to pique so many people's interest. We are definitely happy that many are receptive to buying these foods despite their shorter shelf life," says Ms Ng, whose designation is chief food officer.

And that is the catch with items at the Pantry - they generally have a shelf life of around two months.


Ms Ng says: "Redistributing the food for free to the underprivileged remains our main priority.

"When certain items are rejected by the beneficiaries or if the shelf life is short, then will we consider stocking them at The Food Pantry to give it a last shot at having a chance to be consumed instead of instant disposal."

Ms Ng hopes to change attitudes with The Food Pantry.

She says consumers tend to pick up the best-looking items with the longest shelf life.

"If you intend to use the stuff tomorrow, you don't need a year-long shelf life. Help to use up the products with shorter shelf life first before it ends up in the dumpsters," she says.

Residents in the area had heard of the plan to sell short shelf-life items for $1 and were eagerly waiting for its opening.

The customers were mainly middle-aged and elderly citizens, with a handful of people in their late 20s.

The Food Pantry is hoping to include perishable items next, if people are comfortable paying for items with short shelf life and some defects.

Meat will only be introduced if there is proper storage and refrigeration to ensure that the quality is not compromised.

What expiration dates really mean

Would a can of beans go bad immediately after hitting the use-by date?

Not necessarily, says Dr Leong Lai Peng.

The senior lecturer at National University of Singapore's Food Science & Technology Programme says some food still tastes good after expiry dates.

She says: "It is certainly not a magical date when the food will suddenly turn bad the day after."

So what does it mean when the packaging says "best if used by"?

Dr Leong explains some of the more common terms:

What the terms mean

Sell by and manufacture date

Meant for retailers and manufacturers for stock control.

Pack date

For manufacturers to know when the item was packed.

Best if used by

Quality is peak before this date. Quality includes taste, texture and aroma.

Guaranteed fresh

A guarantee that the product tastes fresh by this date.

Use by

You are encouraged to use this product by this date for maximum enjoyment and quality.

Food safety tips

  • Whether before or after the expiry date, look out for clues that the food has gone bad. The clues include inflated packaging caused by gases produced by bacteria and a bad odour.
  • Store food at the recommended conditions. For example, the storage temperature before and after opening. If the advice is to consume foods within a stipulated number of days after opening, you should also observe that.
  • Handle with care. This includes maintaining the cold chain for cold foods. For food that is fragile, be gentle.
  • Don't dent cans as damaging the packaging is similar to opening them. Once opened, the packaging does not protect the food.
  • Do not thaw and refreeze food. Similarly, don't leave chilled foods out at room temperature for too long. Take out what you need and put the rest back in the fridge.
  • For food to be consumed over a period of time, use a clean and dry serving spoon to scoop out a portion. Do not eat directly from the packaging and then put it back in the fridge.


This article was first published on May 1, 2016.
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