Blog | Rainbow Co-op Grocery in Jackson, MS


Expiration Dates and Half Off Tags - What’s the Deal?

Posted by Patrick on July 18, 2016

You’ve probably spent more time than you like squinting at those little numerical sequences squished into odd corners of your groceries. Expiration dates.

With a name like that, you’d think that they were going to tell you when something expired, when that food you were looking at suddenly became too old to eat. But, as people have pointed out before and will point out again, they don’t really mean much. They’re not based on any particular scientific or medical understanding, there’s no Star Trek pack of tech in your box of lettuce that tells you when there’s too many bacteria. Each carton of milk isn’t scanned by cyborg eyes to determine the exact date at which the good bacteria will overwhelm the bad, there’s no secret time-release formula hiding in that microwavable burrito that makes it wholesome on May 4th and ash on May 5th.

It’s also not a legal issue, nor are there governmental rules about how long expiration dates have to be - it’s not a thing done by the FDA or USDA - there’s not even real rules for the expiration dates on medicine (there are legally enforced dates on baby food). We could sell food that’s been expired for months with no consequences, other than the fact that people won’t buy it. Even without all the preservatives that most supermarket chains allow in their products, products that are packed air-tight and with a minimum of moisture or with the right amounts of salt and/or sugar can have amazingly long shelf lives. Modern high-pressure pasteurization processes, which kill bacteria with obscenely high amounts of air pressure, rather than ultra-high heat, can leave even room-temperature products safely on the shelf for months at a time without adding any chemical preservatives.

So, what’s with the numbers? How do food manufactures decide that a product has had it’s day and is done for? Well, for most products, it’s a marketing and sales decision. If the packers put a date that’s too soon on the package, buyers such as the Rainbow (or our customers) will refuse to buy them - but by putting shorter dates on products, they can increase the turnover of product. These “expired” foods aren’t dead, and they’re safe to eat.

But, due to the fact that people won’t buy it (and because food DOES eventually go bad, even the much-vaunted invincible twinkie) if it’s expired, and because we can’t open up every package to see if the contents are still good, we do take products off the shelf when it’s reached it’s date. It’s a useful shortcut that we’d be foolish not to use, even if it isn’t perfect.

What we DO is discount foods as they come closer to that dreadful date. Rather than slowly writing things down, we just slap a 50% off sticker on there. That’s 50% off the base price, not the special price (you can only get one discount per item, and 50% is almost always the highest discount - if it isn’t, we’ll let you get the higher one). For most of our cold and frozen goods (the ones that tend to be the most volatile) we give them two or three days from the expiration at half off. This tends to keep us from having to write off a lot of product, and it gives you good deals on perfectly good items!

Rainbow Will Be Open for July 4th

Posted by Patrick on July 01, 2016

Rainbow will be open for July 4th, Independence Day. It’s not only a movie, it’s a national holiday, but we’ll be here, America-ing it iup, with a Pop-Up Member’s Day. Yeah, America, 10% off purchases for members, 20% off purchases for owners. Half off memberships! So instead of $25.00 for a year, it’ll be 12.50!

Good luck, America!

Open July 4