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Million Jars of Peanut Butter Dumped In New Mexico Landfill 440

Posted by samzenpus
from the waste-not-want-not dept.
Hugh Pickens DOT Com (2995471) writes "The Guardian reports that a million jars of peanut butter are going to be dumped in a New Mexico landfill and bulldozed over after retailer Costco refused to take shipment of the peanut butter and declined requests to let it be donated to food banks or repackaged or sold to brokers who provide food to institutions like prisons. The peanut butter comes from a bankrupt peanut-processing plant that was at the heart of a salmonella outbreak in 2012 and although 'all parties agreed there's nothing wrong with the peanut butter from a health and safety issue,' court records show that on a 19 March conference call Costco said 'it would not agree to any disposition ... other than destruction.'

The product was tested extensively and determined to be safe. Costco initially agreed to allowing the peanut butter to be sold, but rejected it as 'not merchantable' because of leaking peanut oil. So instead of selling or donating the peanut butter, with a value estimated at $2.6m, the estate is paying about $60,000 to transport 950,000 jars – or about 25 tons – to the Curry County landfill in Clovis, where public works director Clint Bunch says it 'will go in with our regular waste and covered with dirt'. Despite the peanut butter being safe, Curry County landfill employee Tim Stacy says that no one will be able to consume the peanut butter once it's dumped because it will be immediately rolled over with a bulldozer, destroying the supply. Stacy added more trash will then be dumped on top of the pile. Sonya Warwick, spokeswoman for New Mexico's largest food bank, declined to comment directly on the situation, but she noted that rescued food accounted for 74% of what Roadrunner Food Bank distributed across New Mexico last year. 'Access to rescued food allows us to provide a more well-rounded and balanced meal to New Mexicans experiencing hunger.'"
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Million Jars of Peanut Butter Dumped In New Mexico Landfill

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 30, 2014 @04:57PM (#46616791)

    In this litigious society, who can blame them. You can damn near guarantee that they'd have hit one bad jar in a lot that large and gotten the tar sued out of them. If you want to fix this situation and make sure it never happens again, demand tort reform in this country.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by amiga3D (567632)

      I think the real reason is that if they give it away that's 950,000 jars of peanut butter they wont sell. Hard to compete with free. Never mind most of the people getting it free would not be able to buy it anyway.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        There's a hole in your logic. The donated peanut butter would go to those in poverty who are, in all likelihood, not shopping at Costco in the first place.
         
        Donating things to people who aren't your target market doesn't harm your potential sales.

        • by bondsbw (888959) on Sunday March 30, 2014 @05:24PM (#46616959)

          You just couldn't read all three sentences, could you?

        • by AK Marc (707885) on Sunday March 30, 2014 @05:32PM (#46617007)
          Sounds like someone trying to justify piracy. Why are you trying to pirate peanut butter?
          • by jd2112 (1535857)

            Sounds like someone trying to justify piracy. Why are you trying to pirate peanut butter?

            You wouldn't pirate peanut butter would you? I mean if you already have the peanuts, salt, sugar, etc. and mash them up by yourself you are stealing money from the huge peanut butter conglom, er, I mean hard working peanut factory workers.

            • by scarboni888 (1122993) on Sunday March 30, 2014 @07:35PM (#46617689)

              The ONLY thing required to make delicious and nutritious peanut butter is peanuts. The salt and sugar and everything else added in is a scam and degrades the product.

              • by MattskEE (925706)

                A bit of salt makes most foods taste better (in the opinion of most people) and adding salt is in no way a scam.

                I personally have a strong taste preference for the natural style peanut butters which have just peanuts and salt, but I have been disappointed whenever I have tried an unsalted nut butter.

                • Oh no - it's a scam all right. Consistently using salt stimulates your sense of taste so that if you don't use salt the taste is bland. If you stopped using salt you would be able to taste the unsalted food again after your sensitivity level returned. I have proved this to myself time and again with the first such experience being the move to peanut-only peanut butter. At first because I was expecting the doped-up tripe that serves for commercial peanut butter I didn't much like the peanuts-only peanut butt

                • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

                  I have been disappointed whenever I have tried an unsalted nut butter.

                  That's what she said.

      • by thesandbender (911391) on Sunday March 30, 2014 @05:17PM (#46616919)
        People lining up at food banks aren't going to be going to costco and buying peanut butter in bulk. The same goes for families whose children benefit from school meal programs.

        Unfortunately there is a degree of truth to the OP's comment about Costco being afraid of getting sued. I used to volunteer at "under privileged" schools and staff were specifically told not to give food to children in need but to direct them to one of the official programs. Litigation was cited as one of the reasons, as well as concern about children flying under the radar and not getting all the help they needed, etc. The cafeteria wasn't even allowed to give out unused food. The school district in this case was very concerned about getting their butts sued off because of a well intentioned act that went bad (it had happened before). It was a disheartening situation all the way around.
        • by SJester (1676058) on Sunday March 30, 2014 @06:05PM (#46617199) Journal
          Anecdotal, but I have another. A friend is finishing her last semester at a major culinary institute; naturally, they generate a lot of spare food at the school. But they are not allowed to take any of it off the campus. Instead, it is destroyed, and for the same reason stated : the school would be sunk if someone contracted food poisoning and sued. The students and staff do eat but sign hefty waivers. Although I do wonder - Costco does at least sell this food under normal circumstances, so apparently they do have a means of dealing with potential suits. I suspect this is more that they don't have protection for this avenue of distribution, only for sale. I don't know how that works in legal terms though.
      • by MAXOMENOS (9802) <maxomaiNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Sunday March 30, 2014 @05:23PM (#46616953) Homepage
        I actually agree with the parent. Every single jar of peanut butter is a lawsuit waiting to happen, even if they give it away. Even if it's tested safe, Costco still assumes partial liability by handing that peanut butter over to the public. You could repurpose the lot into fertilizer or compost, but it's cheaper to bury the lot.
        • by Ksevio (865461) on Sunday March 30, 2014 @06:44PM (#46617417) Homepage
          At least in some states, donating the food removed responsibility from them in the case of a problem.
        • by xigxag (167441)

          Food retailers run the risk of product liability with every item they sell. And as was mentioned elsewhere the Emerson Act [foodtodonate.com] would likely shield Costco from liability. I think it's more likely that they just don't want the PR nightmare. "Costco deems salmonella-factory peanut butter unsafe for general sale yet gives it away to the poor." Either way, I agree with you that it would be cheaper for them to bury the food. And perhaps just outright donate a generous sum to a couple of food banks to help bury t

      • by Dan East (318230)

        Your logic is not sound. The profit margin to be lost over one shipment of peanut butter is small change. Even if they made a 50 cents profit per jar, we're only talking about $475,000 in profit to be lost. But let's look further. The peanut butter would be donated to food banks and the like, for people who can't afford enough food. Did you know that Costco, like Sam's club, requires membership to shop there? So are you suggesting that these people with such a low income that they cannot afford food a

    • by gmhowell (26755)

      If nothing else, in this case, they should have received a special dispensation from the FDA.

      Similar incidents in areas with large game kills. Hunters cannot in some jurisdictions (Maryland) give the meat from population management hunts to food banks or the like without going through the entire inspection process, at their expense.

    • There's no liability (Score:5, Informative)

      by mapuche (41699) on Sunday March 30, 2014 @05:11PM (#46616881) Homepage

      Clinton signed the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Act.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_Emerson_Good_Samaritan_Act_of_1996

      So no legal reason no to donate food.

      • by khallow (566160) on Sunday March 30, 2014 @05:17PM (#46616923)
        Unless the courts decide that it was gross negligence. So the legal reason is still there.
        • by sjames (1099) on Sunday March 30, 2014 @05:35PM (#46617031) Homepage

          Given the extensive testing, gross negligence would be a really hard sell.

          • And at what cost to Costco? Are they going to be able to recoup cost of legal defense? Not likely.

            • by theskipper (461997) on Sunday March 30, 2014 @06:58PM (#46617491)

              The real question is whether that projected liability cost would offset the bad PR cost (intangible but notable).

              Really surprised Costco let it get to this point and didn't find a middle ground to spin it. They had to know social media would be all over this in a really bad way (facts be damned as usual).

              • by bws111 (1216812)

                There was and is no way for Costco to win. If they donated the food, I can assure you that there would have been equal outrage over the gall of Costco dumping food it considered unfit for consumption on the poor. If they donated the food and people actually got sick an unbelievable shit storm would occur. And if they don't donate the food you get the idiots who can't see the problems with donating raising a stink.

          • by gordo3000 (785698)

            it's not about it being a hard sell..... it's about having to pay for lawyers to defend yourself over and over. it's not worth the time, and 60k doesn't buy very many hours of lawyer time.....

      • by Jiro (131519)

        "Nothing in this section shall be construed to supercede State or local health regulations." I wonder what the state regulations are.

  • by Kuroji (990107) <kuroji@gmail.com> on Sunday March 30, 2014 @05:02PM (#46616829)

    The company shut down in 2012. These were produced prior to the company's closure. This is probably not safe for human consumption at this point.

    Consumer peanut butter's got a shelf life of roughly a year or two at most, generally. This stuff is on the edge of that point, if not past. A million jars of peanut butter being donated would probably sit on the shelves in a home being eaten over the course of a few months, which definitely puts it past the point where the peanut oil may begin going rancid -- and that's not accounting for all the jars that will sit in storage, probably for months if not years, waiting to be given out.

    Donated food is usually donated because something was mislabelled or a pallet came loose and it wasn't suitable for sale due to damage to the container that doesn't jeopardize the product itself. This has been in storage for years. This is not suitable for donation, this is a bunch of jerks trying to make themselves look good and try to drum up donations while making a company that HAS given them donations in the past look bad because they're not giving them donations right now.

    • by Radak (126696) on Sunday March 30, 2014 @05:06PM (#46616851) Journal

      The company shut down in 2012. These were produced prior to the company's closure. This is probably not safe for human consumption at this point.

      According to TFA, the plant shut down in 2012 after the salmonella outbreak, but then reopened, closing again in October 2013. Presumably the peanut butter being landfilled will have been produced in late 2013, which leaves it well within reasonable shelf life.

      • by Kuroji (990107)

        Perhaps, but how fast do you think a million jars of peanut butter are going to be distributed in New Mexico? The state barely has two million PEOPLE in it.

        • by Radak (126696)

          That I don't know about. Just commenting about the likely production date. Peanut butter jars don't last very long in my kitchen, but that's just me. :)

        • by Rockoon (1252108)

          Perhaps, but how fast do you think a million jars of peanut butter are going to be distributed in New Mexico?

          So the reason that brought you to the conclusion you did was proven to be incorrect, and your reaction to this event was to immediately theorize about another reason to get to the same conclusion?

          Which came first, chief?

      • by geekoid (135745)

        WHy si this part being overlooked?
        "but rejected it as 'not merchantable' because of leaking peanut oil."

        • by Radak (126696)

          I saw that in TFA, but it specifically says "leaky peanut oil", not "leaking". It was unclear to me whether this meant the jars were actually leaking oil, which is certainly indicative of a problem or if it meant that the oil was leaking out of the peanut butter but remaining inside the jar, which isn't a problem and is typical of peanut butter that's been sitting for a while. If that's the case, it just needs a stir.

    • by Jim Sadler (3430529) on Sunday March 30, 2014 @05:08PM (#46616869)
      It has tested as safe. But maybe due to the ever looming threat of legal actions it is better to dump it. My notion would be to mix it in with hog rations as they would probably love it.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 30, 2014 @05:04PM (#46616835)

    E.T. loves his peanut butter pieces...

  • This could put the E.T. documentary guys in a sticky situation.

  • by DutchUncle (826473) on Sunday March 30, 2014 @05:06PM (#46616857)
    ... then the news and legal worlds would turn on Costco like a pack of rabid dogs. Yes, this destruction of nutritious food seems like a terrible, horrible waste; but if there's even a chance that one single jar is tainted with salmonella, and someone gets sick, then the tone would change in a heartbeat to "heartless corporation knowingly rids itself of poisoned food". I can't blame them for playing it safe.
    • by mapuche (41699) on Sunday March 30, 2014 @05:15PM (#46616909) Homepage

      There's a law that avoids liability for food donation:

      http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/PLAW-104publ210/pdf/PLAW-104publ210.pdf

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by SensitiveMale (155605)

        Assuming you're right, that may work in the courts. With a judge. That definitely won't matter with the court of public opinion and probably wouldn't work with a jury.

      • There's a law that avoids liability for food donation:

        "Avoids" is much too strong a word.

        State and local health regulations are not superseded.

        You remain legally responsible for injuries or deaths which result from your gross negligence or intentional misconduct. If it comes out in court that you donated food you knew had gone bad or was very likely to have gone bad, you are in trouble,

    • by geekoid (135745)

      Nope. Liability can only happen in the case of gross negligence. Clinton signs a bill to this effect.

      I suspect that this might have to do with the fact that the jars were leaking/ But, hey that means it makers sense and isn't some corporation being meanies, or some false idea that it's due to the tort system. Which, btw, is fine and the amount of 'odd lawsuits' is very, very low.

    • by Patch86 (1465427)

      Then sell it as livestock feed. Pigs eat far worse than peanut butter. Boil it up along with the rest of the slops to kill off any salmonella, and it'll be perfectly safe (if disgusting, from a human point of view).

      Still a waste of perfectly good human food, but at least it's better than burying it with the trash.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 30, 2014 @05:07PM (#46616861)

    Well, at least all of the Atari E.T. cartridges now have an accompanying snack food.

  • by LookIntoTheFuture (3480731) on Sunday March 30, 2014 @05:08PM (#46616867)

    million jars of peanut butter

    Jars of peanut butter come in many different sizes. Could you please convert the amount to Olympic Sized Swimming Pools?

    Thanks.

    • Jars of peanut butter come in many different sizes.

      Not at Costco, they don't. Costco sells thing in only 1 size: fucking huge.

      But more seriously, if this happens to be the Kirkland brand natural peanut butter that Costco sells, it comes in a 2-pack of 40oz jars.

    • by rolfwind (528248)

      A little more than 1/100. The weight of water in such a pool is 2,500 tons. The weight of the peanut butter is 25 tons. Water density is 1 g/cc. Unsalted peanut butter is 1.09 g/cc.

  • Dumping $2.6 million worth of editable food when there are people starving is shocking to most of us. Yet, this is a reflection of our current law suit happy society.

    Most of us has very little to loose and most food banks has very little to loose so our local food bank gladly take in our donated food items and we happily go on with our lives do what we can for people who are starving, one canned food at a time. Also, I've volunteered at the local food banks and base on what I've seen, Costco peanut but

    • by khallow (566160)

      Most of us has very little to loose

      Costco doesn't fall in that category.

      After all, corporations do not understand the physical pain of starvation.

      Completely irrelevant since corporations don't make decisions or understand things. People do.

      • Have you heard of high frequency trading algorithms?

    • and

      Dumping $2.6 million worth of editable food

      What's wrong with this picture?

      • and

        Dumping $2.6 million worth of editable food

        What's wrong with this picture?

        Africa, the continent in need of this kind of aid, refuses to take even GMO food aid:
        http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/afr... [bbc.co.uk]
        Which is eminently safer than whatever's in this peanut butter.

        It's often been said: The world doesn't have a food shortage problem. It has a distribution problem.

        African, one of the most famine stricken places on earth has 60% of the worlds uncultivated arable land.
        http://philmatibeceo.wordpress... [wordpress.com]

        In the U.S. where food is plentiful, we end up throwing food away if it's even remotely suspec

    • by Maritz (1829006) on Sunday March 30, 2014 @06:55PM (#46617477)

      Dumping $2.6 million worth of editable food

      Damn, I thought they said it was read-only peanut butter.

    • "I've volunteered at the local food banks and base on what I've seen, Costco peanut butter is probably an upgrade to the various expired high fructose laden supermarket rejects"

      The food banks I've volunteered at have very high standards and a big part of the volunteer's job is to weed out expired, leaking, or generally icky-looking packages and throw them away. I wouldn't be surprised if we threw out 25% of the stuff we inspected, especially on the frozen food line. Our instructions included something alo

  • It's... (Score:4, Funny)

    by maroberts (15852) on Sunday March 30, 2014 @05:12PM (#46616895) Homepage Journal
    Peanut Butter landfill time....
  • Lawsuits (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Jiro (131519) on Sunday March 30, 2014 @05:15PM (#46616907)

    "All parties agreed there's nothing wrong with the peanut butter from a health and safety issue" isn't legally binding on anyone who might later decide to sue the company. At best it might make lawsuits harder depending on what the exact liability rules are. Furthermore, even if they win the lawsuit, fighting one will cost money and bad publicity, especially when the newspapers can use the spin "it's from a plant that was condemned for salmonella poisoning, how irresponsible can this megacorp be?"

    If they give away the peanut butter, they stand to lose quite a bit with nothing to gain except a little good publicity (said good publicity going down the toilet if anyone actually sues).

  • by Beavertank (1178717) on Sunday March 30, 2014 @05:18PM (#46616937)
    The article summary does a good job of making it sound like Costco is the unreasonable bad guy in this, but every story has two sides. Why is Costco insisting on destroying the peanut butter?

    Is it to avoid claims for payment on the shipment from the bankruptcy estate? Is it fears for later liability? Is it, as the summary tries very hard to imply, sheer obstinate evil?

    If you're not going to even attempt to hide your bias, why even bother?
  • With these click-bait posts from Hugh Whazzizname's blog multiple times a day here on Slashdot?

    Or at least give us an effective way to block stories by submitter?

  • Humans are not 100% efficient? I can't believe it, I mean we're all statistical robots are heart... Right? Right...???

    Please give this tainted "butter" to some needy 3rd-world shiathole. I will feel better in my mansion.

  • by westlake (615356) on Sunday March 30, 2014 @05:28PM (#46616989)

    What "all parties have agreed to" for the narrow purpose of settling a bankruptcy suit is not the same thing as "accepting legal responsibility for the charitable distribution of perishable foods that have been in storage for a minimum of two years."

    If you want to ignite a food riot in a school or prison, serving rancid peanut butter is as good as any place to begin.

  • by PaddyM (45763) on Sunday March 30, 2014 @05:45PM (#46617099) Homepage

    Are people the only animals that consume peanut butter? Can't this be converted to biodiesel or something? I understand the concern for human illness, but aren't there other options?

    • by dwillden (521345)
      That was my thought as well. Don't dump it in a landfill. Feed for animals, fuel for a waste incinerator, compost it. Surely there are dozens of better uses than simply filling up another landfill with this stuff? Uses that don't involve people eating it.
  • Landfill? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by idji (984038) on Sunday March 30, 2014 @05:52PM (#46617125)
    Why is this going to landfill - how backward is that? Who does landfill anymore? That stuff is full of oils and proteins. It could be turned into biodiesel or put into a furnace to generate heat and electricity.
  • by IonOtter (629215) on Sunday March 30, 2014 @05:54PM (#46617137) Homepage

    This sort of thing has happened before, and it will happen again. An even better example was when the MV Cougar Ace almost sank, and 4700 brand new Mazda cars hung at a 60 degree angle for several months. [googleusercontent.com] They never moved, and they were all in seemingly perfect condition.

    Mazda chose to err on the side of caution, [neatorama.com] rather than risk a lawsuit. Or even worse, there was a very valid concern that they would become "Katrina Cars". A coat of paint, and they would be bundled up and sold in some other unsuspecting country. [nbcnews.com] (On a side-note, the destruction process is really cool! [wsj.com].)

    With waivers not being worth the paper they're printed on, it's simply not worth the risk of getting sued.

    And finally, there's the "soft damage" to take into consideration? Remember the kid in preschool who "had cooties"? That kid KEPT those cooties, right up until graduation day in high school. Costco might never allow a single jar to hit their normal distribution system, but just the simple fact that the peanut butter even exists at all, is a risk that someone, somewhere, will say, "Whoa, Costco peanut butter might have salmonella."

    Play "Telephone [wikipedia.org]" with that for a while, and suddenly Costco can't pay someone to take a jar of peanut butter. This is actually a very safe, very beneficial tactic for Costco.

    Now consumers can be absolutely guaranteed that they will never have to think about whether Costco peanut butter is safe.

    And in retail, that's money in the bank.

  • by RayHs (888369)
    Ok so maybe nothing can be done with the peanut butter but that sounds like alot of glass or plastic that could at least be recycled.
  • by buss_error (142273) on Sunday March 30, 2014 @09:25PM (#46618079) Homepage Journal

    The issue here isn't that CostCo is being numb, the issue is that people can sue CostCo if they claim to be sick from the peanut butter. Even if the food bank gives it away, and the person that gets it gives it away, the chain is still there, and CostCo is still in the sights of a plaintiff as a target for a suit.

    This is pretty much why railroads will shred brand new cars if they were in a derailment. It's easier accounting to pay the manufacturer for the car than to risk 100,000 or more in liability because the car "might have been" damaged in the derailment leading to the suit. Hmmm. $40K for the car an know that's the end of it, or risk potentially $100K+ payouts for decades after from someone that might not even be born yet? It's simple math.

  • by angst_ridden_hipster (23104) on Sunday March 30, 2014 @10:02PM (#46618223) Homepage Journal

    Back in the day (1980s), I helped run an emergency food pantry in Southern California. At the time, Sol Price (founder of Price Club, which I believe is one of the constituent chains that merged to become CostCo) donated pallets of dried milk to us to redistribute. In general, these were pallets where there had been damage, so some of the packages were not usable - the vast majority of the packages, however, were fine.

    At our pantry, that donation made up a substantial part of what we gave out to people, especially those with children.

    I always thought it was both generous and great business sense for them to donate that food. After all, Price Club got a tax write off, there was less waste, and the hungry people got food without it impacting Price Club's sales.

  • by ikhider (2837593) on Monday March 31, 2014 @12:20AM (#46618653)
    Be it future generations on archeological digs or some other entity examing our time, doubtless the future will see this as one of the dark ages. The waste alone is shamefull. I understand Costco's move, if they are worried about litigation, but wasted food always makes me feel bad. I wish there was a better way to dispose of this, or perhaps avoid disposal altogether. If we had more local businesses, food producers, and farms--then perhaps mega-food production would not be needed. The place I go to for peanut butter, crushes the penuts in a machine right in front of me. About as fresh as it gets with no added salts, oils or preservatives. An independnt shop run by an old lady that sells dried foods, nuts, olives, spices, and such. No waste in this sort of place. We need more of this and less of Costco.
  • by bradley13 (1118935) on Monday March 31, 2014 @12:46AM (#46618715) Homepage

    Other /.ers have covered the issues around the peanut butter well enough. What no one has mentioned is the continued idiocy of landfills in the US. Why doesn't the US incinerate? You get energy out of the trash, destroy poisonous chemicals, recover the metals, and at the end you have a much smaller volume of waste that needs to be disposed of.

    • Incineration is illegal because it causes pollution.

      Seriously, I remember about 35-40 years ago, the private grade school I attended would incinerate their trash. Then it was banned.

  • by MouseTheLuckyDog (2752443) on Monday March 31, 2014 @12:47AM (#46618723)

    Isn't dumping so much of an edible in one location just eventually going to attract a large vermin population?

Hold on to the root.

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