Ex-Trader Joes' Chief Will Turn Expired Groceries Into Affordable Meals

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What do you do when the food in your fridge looks fresh, but its sell-by date has passed? If you're like nine out of 10 Americans, chances are that you'll throw it away, regardless of how fresh it may seem. In fact, according to a study by the Natural Resources Defense Council and Harvard Law School, Americans throw out $165 billion worth of food each year.

The thing is, most of your "expired" food may be just fine. Far from being a measure of food safety, sell-by dates are a tool for retailers, designed to give them a vague idea of when food is going to be at the peak of its flavor. But food that has passed its expiration date may still be perfectly edible. Even so, millions of pounds of it are thrown out every year, making uneaten food the main contributor to America's landfills.

Doug Rauch, the former president of Trader Joe's, thinks he might have a solution to the expired food problem. Next year, he plans to open a store that will prepare fresh meals from that expired food. Located in Dorchester, Mass., the prototype of his new concept, named The Daily Table, will sell its food at a steep discount.

%VIRTUAL-article-sponsoredlinks%The concept sounds a lot like Whole Foods', whose prepared food bar makes it a popular destination for foodies looking for quick, cheap meals. The difference is that, unlike Whole Foods, The Daily Table isn't aimed at high-income shoppers. Rather, Rauch hopes to compete with high-convenience, low-cost fast food establishments like McDonald's.

Rauch is hardly the first person to come up with an innovative plan for bringing fresh, healthy meals to America's "food deserts": Among others, the USDA and Michelle Obama have been trying to tackle the problem of neighborhoods where good food is hard to find. And, for that matter, Rauch's solution is not all that different from that of food banks, which often act as clearinghouses for expired or nearly-expired food.

What makes the Daily Table's model different, however, is that it also addresses another problem: time. Rather than selling discounted ingredients to low-income families who may not have time to prepare them, his new store would sell fully-prepared meals, giving struggling breadwinners a way to cut costs -- while spending more time with their family members.

It remains to be seen if Rauch's plan will work, but for families struggling in food deserts, it could put yet another solution to the menu.

Bruce Watson is DailyFinance's Savings editor. You can reach him by e-mail at bruce.watson@teamaol.com, or follow him on Twitter at @bruce1971.