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NPR Politics presents the Lunchbox List: our favorite campaign news and stories curated from NPR and around the Web in digestible bites (100 words or less!). Look for it every weekday afternoon from now until the conventions.

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Buying Food Past Its Sell-By Date Tough To Swallow For Greeks

Oct 23, 2012
Originally published on October 24, 2012 10:00 am

Austerity measures continue in Greece as the country sinks deeper into a recession. Incomes have dropped nearly 50 percent in some cases, but food prices are at record highs. The Greek newspaper Ekathimerini recently reported that the country has some of the most expensive food and the costliest dairy products in the entire European Union.

In response, the Greek government is now asking retailers to discount nonperishable food that's past its sell-by date. As Joanna Kakissis reported for Morning Edition, the country's food safety board will set a final sell-by date that could be a week to three months after the one determined by the manufacturer. (Click below to hear her report.)

Although grocery auctions and salvage grocery stores are a popular outlet for expired food in the U.S., the news was met with anger from some anti-austerity activists in Greece. They say it forces food that supermarkets "send to the pigs" on those who are already suffering. Many food banks in the U.S. do not accept expired food for similar reasons.

Thanassis Skordas, a deputy development minister in Greece, says the new rules will not apply dairy, meat and other perishable products.The government says the new rules only apply to shelf-stable foods like pasta, spices and canned tomato sauces.

Food experts note that the dates on these foods are used to indicate quality, not safety. The taste and color of nonperishable products may degrade after their sell-by date, but they're not necessarily dangerous.

It's legal to sell food past its sell-by date in much of the U.S. and E.U., and it's been legal in Greece since 1989. Earlier this year, the European Parliament passed a resolution on food waste that called on retailers to sell at a discount food that is nearly-expired to help feed more people. It didn't have any recommendations for food that's past its best-by date.

Skordas says consumers can be assured that the expired food in Greek stores will be easy to spot.

"The items must be also placed on a separate shelf and marked at a much lower price. Of course, we are not forcing anyone to sell these products. But if they choose to, they must follow these rules," he says."

He says it could help consumers save up to 80 percent on food. But setting those discounts is still up to retailers, who are also feeling the recession's pinch.

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