Near-expired foods are generally pre-packaged foods which are close to but have not exceeded their expiry dates. Chinese consumers have shown rising interest in these products due to the associated cheaper price promotions and offers, particularly in supermarkets where sometimes whole counters are set up dedicated to the sales of near-expired foods.
China’s National People’s Congress Standing Committee passed an anti-food waste law in congress earlier this year in April. Near-expired foods both fit the ideology of this policy, and are generally lower in price, so following the passing of this law, these products saw a boost in popularity locally, leading local authorities to develop specific consumption guidelines for these to prevent food safety incidents.
“Near-expired food is favoured by many consumers due to their lower pricing [so] we have developed these guidelines to give consumers better understanding and consumption practices of these [based on] scientific principles,” said China’s State Administration for Market Regulation (SAMR) via a formal statement.
“These foods are safe under normal circumstances [as these are protected by] both the local Food Safety Law and Anti-Food Waste Law. The Food Safety Law stipulates that all pre-packaged foods need to indicate the production date, shelf life and expiry date.
“On the other hand, the Anti-Food Safety Law mandates the sellers of these foods such as supermarkets and shopping malls to strengthen daily inspections of food products and segregate those close to expiry with special labelling or centralised display and sales.”
The ministry urged consumers to stick to formal, licensed retail outlets such as branded supermarkets when looking to purchase near-expired items in order to reduce the risk of food safety incidents.
“When attempting to purchase these food products, it is important to examine the packaging closely to ensure there is not damage, unnatural bloating of the bag, leakage of air indicating a hole and so on,” it said.
“Close attention must be paid to the production and expiration date to ensure the product is near-expiry but not yet expired, and all violations of this must be reported to the authorities. Similarly, if the food products are not stored under the conditions stated on the label e.g. not refrigerated if required, consumers must avoid buying these [and make the relevant reports].”
Another major food safety risk highlighted by the ministry was that due to the low prices, consumers might buy large quantities of these near-expired foods and continue consuming these at home even past their expiry dates, increasing exposure to microbes or toxins from spoilt foods.
“Consumers need to be both scientific and rational when making these purchases – being greedy and buying large amounts due to the cheap prices or discounts is an unwise practice [as it increases] the risk of food safety incidents, as well as increases the possibility of increasing food waste further due to having to throw food away due to expiration or spoilage, [defeating their initial purpose],” said SAMR.
“Only with both retailers and consumers behaving rationally and in line with the law can [both sides benefit] from this near-expired foods arrangement – retailers can sell these at low prices to reduce their losses and their food waste, whereas consumers can enjoy lower prices whilst still having their rights and safety protected.”
Rising trend amongst the young
Near-expired foods are not completely new to China, especially in supermarkets, but the purchasing of these were previously more common practice for the elderly and much less ‘trendy’ amongst other age groups.
Since China passed its anti-food waste law though, there has been a rising growth in the popularity of these foods, making the purchasing of these a whole new trend even amongst younger consumers – a social media group dubbed ‘I love near-expired food’ has gone viral on Chinese social media platform Douban with over 87,000 members and even more observers – most of these younger consumers sharing their experience and know-how to find and buy such foods.
According to research firm iiMedia Research, younger consumers between the age of 26 to 35 now make up some 47.8% of those making near-expired food purchases in China. Apart from its newfound ‘trendiness’ and high complementation with the anti-food waste law, analysts also postulate that economic needs such as pressure from limited salaries and high rent as well as China’s promotion of a frugal culture are also driving the rise of near-expired food sales amongst younger consumers.