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Coles and Woolworths respond to accusations of destroying 'edible' food

Coles and Woolworths have been accused of chucking out edible food as well as 'ripping' it up before throwing it away.

Coles and Woolworths have recently been accused of throwing out a "significant portion" of "consumable food" despite cost-of-living pressures — with claims the retailers are also destroying discarded food instead of leaving it available to those who need it.

Simon Eden, a dumpster diver in Adelaide, claimed he has seen first-hand Coles and Woolworths workers "ripping packaging open and throwing contents" in the bin, rendering the food inedible, in what looked to be a bid to stop people going through the large bins.

But, Coles and Woolworths have quickly responded to the allegations, with both telling Yahoo News Australia this is simply not the case and that "unsold, edible" food is "donated".

Left image of a Woolworths storefront. Right image of a Coles storefront.
Supermarkets like Coles and Woolworths have been criticised for alleged price gouging and food waste. Source: Getty

Coles and Woolies say they have 'waste solutions'

While each state has different food waste and recycling processes, for Woolworths stores in Adelaide, food that is not able to be donated gets composted. To make sure it is compostable, team members remove the packaging — which could be what dumpster diver Simon said he had seen. It is unconfirmed if Coles also compost their discarded food.

Before being thrown out, the retailers say they "donate" food to charities. "Every Coles supermarket and distribution centre has a food waste solution available," a Coles spokesperson said. "Our first choice for unsold, edible food is to donate it to food rescue organisations SecondBite and Foodbank."

Woolworths had a similar response, with their spokesperson saying "every one of our stores has a partnership with a local hunger relief organisation, passing on any food that can’t be sold but is still safe to eat."

Two images showing supermarket bins with green lids full of fresh produce and other food.
Dumpster diving is said to be on the rise in Australia. Source: Facebook/Supplied

Suitable food that is not safe for human consumption, but is safe for animal consumption, is also donated. "We have other food waste solutions including donations to farmers and animal or wildlife services, as well as organic food collections," Coles said.

Both retailers do not support dumpster diving for health and safety reasons, including the logistics of accessing bins in loading docks and the lack of temperate control to keep food safe.

Response comes amid Senate inquiry into supermarket pricing

A Senate inquiry into supermarket pricing last Thursday heard a growing number of Australians are turning to dumpster diving due to the increased cost of living.

Amelia Cromb from the organisation Grassroots Action Network Tasmania said large amounts of food at supermarkets had been needlessly thrown away before the expiry of best-before dates.

"It just seems like such a cruel mockery almost that people are going to supermarkets to buy food that is a human right ... and at the end of the day the supermarket can just basically rip the tag off that high price, throw it in the bin as though it had no value at all," she said. "It's criminal, there's no other way to put it, it's just unacceptable."

Why is food discarded by supermarkets?

Foods past their use-by date must be thrown out because Coles and Woolies cannot sell or donate it, according to Food Standards Australia and New Zealand. "Foods should not be eaten after the use-by date and can't legally be sold after this date because they may pose a health or safety risk," it states.

Whereas, foods with a best-before date can legally be sold or given to people "provided it is fit for human consumption". "We aim to only discard food that can't be donated to charity, often for food safety reasons," Woolworths said.

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