Food auctions: new trend in a down economy

While canning, freezing and growing food at home are increasing, so are discounted food sales. Sean Gregory writes in this week’s Time that food items are now appearing at auctions across the U.S.,

As the stock market headed south last fall, Ron Peterson, owner of Elmer Auction, LLC, added grocery items like cereals and cleaning supplies to his ledger. And they’ve sold, to the cash-strapped ladies and gentlemen sitting in each and every row. "People are skipping the decorative items," says Peterson, "and buying what they need."

The story goes on to give a couple of examples of what is being sold at these auctions:

Clyde DeHart, owner of DeHart’s Auction Service in Carlisle, Pa., takes "scratch n’ dent" items from a nearby BJ’s Wholesale Club store. Since BJ’s sells in bulk, if one can of corn gets smashed in the truck, the whole case can’t be displayed in the store. So DeHart takes the case, throws out the bad can, and auctions off the rest.

Some items are near or slightly past their sell-by dates, but these days, expiration won’t keep shoppers from a discount. Other stuff is just sitting on the shelves, and will go to waste if it’s not auctioned off.

At a grocery auction in early April, [Randy Zimmerman, mother of seven] bought hot dogs, frozen pizzas and an Easter ham, among other items. Zimmerman figures all the stuff she bought would have cost $300 in the grocery store. She paid $100.

Ripped bulk packaging isn’t that much of a risk, but anything where the integrity of the direct packaging has been comprimised (such as a dented can) would be something to avoid.

It’s not surprising that alternative (and cheaper) sources for food are popping up — and that folks are seeking them out. The biggest issue with some of the items mentioned would be temperature control — hard to trust that foods like Easter hams and hot dogs were held at the refrigeration temperatures after leaving (or being set aside) by the retailer. Handling of bulk fruits and vegetables by auctioneers and their staff could also lead to food safety problems.

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About Ben Chapman

Dr. Ben Chapman is a professor and food safety extension specialist at North Carolina State University. As a teenager, a Saturday afternoon viewing of the classic cable movie, Outbreak, sparked his interest in pathogens and public health. With the goal of less foodborne illness, his group designs, implements, and evaluates food safety strategies, messages, and media from farm-to-fork. Through reality-based research, Chapman investigates behaviors and creates interventions aimed at amateur and professional food handlers, managers, and organizational decision-makers; the gate keepers of safe food. Ben co-hosts a biweekly podcast called Food Safety Talk and tries to further engage folks online through Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and, maybe not surprisingly, Pinterest. Follow on Twitter @benjaminchapman.