I walked into Woolworths in the Mall of Africa this afternoon, just in time to see the deli staff throw an entire plate of gorgeous pineapple pieces into the dustbin. This was followed instantly by an entire plate of gorgeous watermelon pieces, with a half a plate of grapes up next; and a full plate of chocolate, a full platter of chips, and a 3 quarter platter of cake – the latter 3 which I had just sampled – all headed for the bin.
Here’s how the conversation went :
- “What do you think you are doing?”
- “We need to wash the plates”
- “Why are you throwing perfectly good food into the dustbin??”
- “We have to”
- “What are you talking about?”
- “We have to throw all the food away every 4 hours”
- “I beg your pardon?! Why are you doing that?! Give it to the homeless!”
- “We aren’t allowed to”
- “But why not, there is nothing wrong with that food!”
- “It’s got germs now, we can’t give it away”
- “Oh please, customers have been sticking their fingers in those platters all day, how come suddenly now it has germs?! We have immune systems you know and this is Africa. See these grapes, watch me eating one! See these chips, watch me eating one! I don’t care how long they’ve been here, they look absolutely perfect! Why don’t you wash it, then juice it, or turn it into ice-cream or something?? Put it in a tupperware in the fridge and give it away later!”
- “We know, but it’s policy. We are not allowed to give any of this food away or do anything with it.”
- “Not even to you as staff??”
- “No, they say we will steal more if they give us the left over food”
- “So let me get this straight … Woolworths throws away plates of perfectly good food into the dustbin every single day every 4 hours every single day?!”
- “Yes that’s right”
- “When there is nothing wrong with it; when there is a taxi rank not 100m from here with people living on the breadline who can use this food?”
- “And staff are not allowed to have any either”
- “Get me a store manager, now.”
- “They do it in the restaurant too. Every day at 3 o’clock they throw away any food not eaten”
- “Fine, get me the restaurant manager too”
What ensued was a surreal conversation for an hour with the Woolworths deli and restaurant staff and managers about this criminal waste of food and a major rant by me of how unacceptable this is! I told them I am taking pictures of this, they put the lid on the dustbin and said I can’t, that they would get fired. That in fact, they are not allowed to say anything about this “policy” for fear of being fired. Staff at this Woolworths are not allowed to touch this food, nor buy it at cost, nor give it away, nor question the policy in any way. What kind of tyrant is running the show there? The staff told me they did strike once, but not one word of it was mentioned in the press, it was all quietly swept under the covers so now they feel powerless. Then some conversation about the amount of food that was left made it necessary to throw away or something. Whereupon I said “how about this for a concept – don’t put any food out at all for people to taste if this is the result! It’s shameful!”
Does this food look off or bad to you? All of it got thrown away today. A small sample of what I saw lying around.
Enraged, I left and drove to the shopping centre 1,5km down the road to a Woolworths and Checkers there. I figured I’d go to Checkers first because I now refuse to shop at Woolworths, then figured I better ask Checkers staff too. So get to the deli section and ask them outright “How often do you throw this food away?”. They professed to not understand what I was asking and pointed out a manager to me. Three of them came over and I asked them the same question.
- “How often do you throw this food away?”
- “Every morning”
- “So you through away all the food not eaten in a day, every single morning”
- “Even when not 4 minutes from here is a Builders Warehouse with at least 100 people on the street corners begging for work because they are pretty much destitute”
- “It’s policy”
- “Why can’t you give it to your staff?”
- “Because they may steal more. What happens is that they will buffer how much was put out and we will lose lots of money”
- “Really…. you don’t maybe think that if you treat staff properly and pay them a decent salary, that they wouldn’t steal so much in the first place?”
- “I didn’t say that they do steal, please don’t quote me on this. It’s store policy, let me give you the store manager’s details, I have no say over the policy, we are not allowed to give the food away, you need to speak to a the store manager” He seemed desperate to end this conversation.
It felt like de ja vu…. different store, same story from same level of staff. Mmmm….
I gave the same shpeel to both stores :
“Policy? Really? I don’t give a rats ass about some ‘policy’. This is morally wrong in a country where most of its citizens are starving, jobless and homeless – the policy sucks! Can you imagine how sickening it must be to be living on the breadline as it is, and having to watch yourself throw away perfectly good food because of a “policy”? Can you imagine how deadened those staff must feel being so helpless and forced to do this? Can you imagine being so intimidated that you are too terrified to stand up for what is ethically right? Can you imagine being too scared to give your name for fear of being fired? Can you imagine the tons of food being wasted by these 2 companies alone, every single day – because of policy?! It’s reprehensible…
I went to the other Woolworths – straight to the deli with the same question. Much to my surprise and without the slightest hesitation I was told that they throw nothing away, it all goes to the homeless charities every single day.
- “Nothing at all gets thrown out, ever?”
- “No, after 4 hours we have to take it off the frontline, but we move it to refrigerated storage in the back and package it, then the charities fetch it every day. If one doesn’t arrive, their quota goes to the next one. We have about 6 that come regularly. And then staff can also buy it at a huge discount if they want to”
- “So what about the policy of throwing food away”
- “What policy?”
I proceeded to recount the events at the previous two stores, and while they couldn’t comment on Checkers, they said that Mall of Africa had this completely wrong. It’s not company-wide policy, each store decides for itself. They were appalled to hear how much food was being wasted and felt there was no excuse for this, I couldn’t agree more.
I told all the stores that I am going straight to social media with this.
So what about Woolworths’ quote to 702 in 2015?
Clearly lies based on what I witnessed today and was told by their own staff! Accountability people, we need to start having some.
To all the big food chains (Pick n Pay and Spar, I’m checking on you tomorrow…) :
Look I get it, stuff happens. Things get out of control. People screw you over. You retaliate. But this is not the answer…. A policy that allows for perfectly good food to be thrown out is unacceptable to me. In a country of incredibly desperate people and so many in need, surely there are better ways that this can be handled? I’ll probably get the botulism and stock theft argument, or ‘it’s law’, to which I can only say is a gigantic cop out. The food being chucked out is just fine, we all know that. Some bean counter somewhere may have taken some random sample to test hygiene in a place that is impossible to keep clean in the first place. We have immune systems. The homeless don’t care about some piece of paper.
Plus you are causing your own issues. You can’t pay people minimum wage, make them work 12 hour shifts, not give them any food then make them throw what food there is into a dustbin and not expect some backlash. How did you think this was going to end? I said to all those staff members in all the stores that if I was in their position, I would have found every single opportunity to rob you blind! How could you blame them? I would never dream of doing that to someone who treated me like gold. Is that the result of becoming the behemoth companies that you are? Marginalised staff, wasted food and irrate customers? Have you gotten so out of touch with the people on grass roots level that you have driven a customer to total rage to take up the cause of your own staff and needy people in this country because of a policy?!
Why are your staff so terrified of losing their jobs? Why is this food not being dealt with better? I can understand meat, chicken and seafood might have issues, or stuff way past a sell-by date; but fruits and vegetables, breads, cakes, and cooked food? Come on…. Call the charities and tell them to come and fetch it man. Within 5 minutes from those stores are 5 taxi ranks, endless jobless people on the street, a very poor children’s home – surely all those people would benefit from that food? I am abundantly aware that there will be 2 sides to this story, and I would be more than happy to hear yours. Oh, and by the way – don’t even think of holding the staff on the ground hostage to this. This is not their fault….
To the staff in all these types of stores :
Why do you blindly accept a policy that is blatantly wrong? You are many and they are few. When you stand together, you can question this type of behaviour. You have strength and you have power, stand and be counted! Stop thinking about yourself as an employee for one second, let’s just talk human to human here. Do you think this is right? Are you making ends meet? Could you do with some of this food? Do you know people who could use this food?” Unanimous answers in both stores said that no, they do not make ends meet, agree the policy is terrible, and know lots of people who could use the food. My domestic eats pap (maize meal) pretty much all month because she can’t afford anything else, and she would kill to have the food every day that was just turfed in front of my eyes. You said you would too. Don’t accept life as “this is just the way it is”. It isn’t! You can change it. Use social media to your advantage. #StrongerTogether!
To all of us consumers :
We need to ask better questions of our stores, seriously. I am nauseated enough having to shop anywhere for anything knowing the contents of our food, without having to know this on top of it too. And to be honest, I don’t think I had actually even thought of it before. Until I saw it with my own eyes a couple of hours ago, I may actually not even have believed it! I used to love trying out all the testers of things, but now that I know what happens behind that, I don’t ever want to taste anything there ever again. Go and ask every single grocer you frequent about their policy on food that is thrown away and challenge the status quo! Stop being sheep for goodness sake. This country is in dire need of a gigantic kick up the ass on every level. Every one of us is accountable for the mess it is in. A search for a store name throwing food away comes up blank on Google. How is this possible? Only a tiny handful articles came up that I could find, one referenced above. Why? Because we consumers blindly accept what is marketed to us covered in pretty wrappings and hollow rhetoric – and then complain about the state of the nation.
It’s not that there’s not enough food on the planet for everyone. It’s that people can’t afford to pay for it. Very nicely engineered. Only you and I can change that. We both know that there is zero motivation for the food giants to change their ways – unless we the people force them to. So when you go shopping tomorrow, go and ask some hard questions and see what you get told.