At grocery auctions, is safety assured?

Articles
December 10, 2009

At grocery auctions, is safety assured?

Under financial duress, some families are turning toward unconventional – and we think potentially risky – sources for food in order to save money.

Under financial duress, some families are turning toward unconventional – and we think potentially risky – sources for food in order to save money. If illness or worse strike one day as a result, state and federal authorities will be second-guessed as to why they didn’t move to monitor this emerging pipeline more closely.

We’re talking grocery auctions here, the latest outgrowth of the recession – where companies that are experienced at handling furniture, art, cars, collectibles and other hard assets are now pounding the gavel on frozen meats, packaged foods and other traditional supermarket fare. 

According to an Associated Press account reported byWBNS-10TV in Ohio, a food auction held by one auctioneer, Brandly & Associates, drew bidders from outside the state. The Columbus Dispatch noted two other auction sites for food:  Schleeter’s Auction House in St. Mary’s, Ohio, which recently sold three freezers full of frozen meats, and Ottawa Lake Auction House in Ottawa Lake, Michigan. Their typical sources: unsold, returned or damaged goods from supermarkets, distribution centers and restaurant suppliers, the Dispatch reported.

This may be no less secure, with respect to food safety, than when excess perishables from produce, fish and meat markets wind up being sold in neighborhoods out of car trunks. But we think the eBay generation that’s familiar with auctions, and thinks they’re a good idea for saving money, could use some protections. Is there a documented custody chain of the foods? Are storage and transport facilities clean? Are consistent temperatures of the foods recorded and logged? Are auctioneers regulated in any way? Have auctioneers received any kind of food-handling training or certifications? These are some of our concerns at SupermarketGuru.com.

We understand it can be compelling to buy 24 Lunchables packs (about $48 in the store) for $8, or ham steaks ($7 at retail) for $2.50, as the Dispatch noted. But the risk may be in what consumers don’t see – how the items were stored, cared for and shipped before reaching the podium. To some extent, auction prices may also give consumers false expectations about what food prices should really be.

So we urge two outcomes: First, let’s get some assurance that auctioned foods are handled safely. Second, consumers ought to consider shopping at proven, established discount operators such as Save-A-Lot, Grocery Outlet, Aldi and others that offer consistent deep savings and the integrity of a safe food pipeline.