Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Freegans raid Whole Foods

Published in the Portland Phoenix

A group of freegans took what they say are hundreds of eggs, hundreds of pounds of butter and cheese, soy milk and other soy products, and packaged frozen foods from Dumpsters outside the Marginal Way Whole Foods store in the aftermath of last week's ice storm.

The store lost power for 12 hours, according to manager Marissa Perry, putting cooled, refrigerated, and frozen food at risk of spoiling. The store's employees sent "four or five vanloads" of food to the Wayside Soup Kitchen, and tried to move items that needed refrigeration into larger cold-storage rooms. They used dry ice to keep things cool, and were hoping that refrigerated trucks would arrive to help, but ran out of space and time.

What remained had to be thrown out because "it had been out of temperature for more than four hours," and was no longer safe to eat according to government regulations and company policy, Perry says. "If you leave food out for three or four hours, and you don't heat it or re-refrigerate it, you're growing bacteria," she says.

In an interview with the Portland Phoenix, an organizer of the scavenging crew — some of whom regularly recover and eat food thrown away by others — said several carloads of food were carted away on Friday night, but when they returned on Saturday morning, they were ordered to leave the property by store officials and a Portland police officer, and were barred from taking any more food from the Dumpster.

"We wanted them to not take away the Dumpster," says the organizer. "The food is perfectly good," and "some of it was stuff that doesn't even need to be refrigerated" before use, such as pickles and kimchee in glass jars. "I think it's a travesty to throw away tens of tons of food," he says.

"All the frozen stuff we've used so far looked like it never thawed," the organizer says. Perry says the raiders may believe that because of the weekend's below-freezing temperatures, which likely caused the food to refreeze in the Dumpsters.

And while the organizer says no one who has eaten the food has yet gotten sick, Perry is worried that it may happen down the road. She says some of the people she encountered raiding the Dumpsters told her they "are accustomed to eating rotten food," and so perhaps have a different view of what is safe for consumption.

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