Not Wasting Food - for the Bottom Line

One of the main problems that supermarket chains face is the wastage of fresh food. Shelf life is kept short by Health Ministry ordinances, and because of the food's condition.

For tomatoes or cucumbers, the situation is clear: No one buys soft, rotten produce. But meat is different, and the ministry steps in to protect consumers in this realm. According to the regulations, fresh meat can be kept for only three days, and on the fourth day it must be disposed of. But instead of throwing it away, it can also be grilled and sold on the fourth day.

The issue of wastage is very important to supermarkets. On one hand destroying food is expensive. On the other hand, any attempt to get around the rules can hurt public health - or damage a supermarket's precious reputation.

According to senior officials in the industry, the official procedures are clear. Every novice butcher knows them, and violating them can mean closure of the meat department - or even the entire store - for violating the law.

Trouble arises when chain managers pressure their branch heads to cut down on wastage of fruits and vegetables, but concerning meat there is no room for cutting corners, said one official. The big chains have even been known to fire local managers who do not strictly follow the procedures.

So where is the problem? When branch and regional managers say something different from the main management, and even ignore violations, either because they are cutting corners or because their bonuses depend on it.