SAN ANTONIO – Linda Bocanegra considers herself a regular at the Las Palmas H-E-B, often replenishing her home’s supply of bread and milk. But when she looks to buy produce, she said she often leaves disappointed.
“When we buy something from the H-E-B, we want to make sure when we take it home and feed our families that they’re not going to get sick from the food or from the product,” Bocanegra said.
Bocanegra said checking the quality and expiration dates of the food she buys at the Las Palmas H-E-B has become a regular part of her grocery shopping routine.
And she’s not alone.
Westwood Square neighbors report that the Las Palmas location has food past its best-by date, empty shelves and old infrastructure.
The USDA has classifications for a food’s quality with terms like “best if used by/before,” “sell-by” and “use-by.” Below are the definitions:
- “Best if used by/before:” This date shows when a product will have its best flavor and quality. It’s not a purchase or safety date.
- “Sell-by:” This date tells a store how long to display a product for sale and inventory management. It’s not a safety date.
- “Use-by:” This date is the last date recommended for a food to be at its peak quality. It is not a safety date, unless it’s for certain infant formulas.
The USDA said if a product is past one of these dates, it usually is still safe to be consumed unless spoilage is evident. But the food will not be at its best quality.
In one 15-minute trip to the Las Palmas H-E-B, KSAT found more than 10 items past their “best if used by” date. KSAT went to several other H-E-B stores in San Antonio to see if this was a common issue, and no other store seemed to have as many items past their “sell-by” dates.
KSAT took these concerns directly to H-E-B. Communicating with the Public Affairs department of the supermarket chain, KSAT asked on five separate occasions through emails if the department would comment on food past its “best if used by” date. KSAT never got a direct response to those concerns.
Instead, Valentino Lucio, a spokesperson for H-E-B, sent a statement commenting on the role that H-E-B provides in the San Antonio area, bringing “fresh and quality products.” That statement said H-E-B invests “in our communities.”
Lucio confirmed that the Las Palmas store is among the list of supermarket stores planned for renovation and enhancement projects in the near future. But he said no timeline is set for the project.
Lucio first sent a statement on Sept. 1 to KSAT listing some of the updates planned at the Las Palmas location. Those included the “relocation of multiple departments, new refrigerator cases throughout the store, the addition of a Sushiya Sushi counter, new customer bathrooms, and partner breakroom.”
But late on the night of Oct. 17, the day before this story was set to air, Lucio requested a slight revision of the original statement provided.
The new statement removed those specific projects listed, saying “some changes have been made since we last communicated.”
He said the Las Palmas project is currently in flux, meaning there is no timeline for renovations and supply chain factors could change plans altogether.
One of the projects is already underway. In late September, crews started resurfacing the parking lot surrounding the H-E-B.
Community leaders like Roger Caballero, the executive director of the Madonna Center in Westwood Square, said he’s holding onto hope with new projects like this renovation.
“There’s really not a lot in the way of grocery stores,” Caballero said. “The need is still here. Children are still here. Families are still here. Seniors are still here.”
Caballero said the Madonna Center is working to tackle the more extensive conversation behind these issues: food insecurity. He said the center partners with the San Antonio Food Bank to help provide fresh food to the community through boxes and meals.
“It’s something that the seniors rely on,” Caballero said. “It is really more expensive to eat healthy than not.”
Eric Cooper, the president and CEO of the San Antonio Food Bank, said the most common barriers to fresh and affordable food in San Antonio are income, geography, education and the commerce around food, like how fast food restaurants offer cheaper prices even though their food is significantly less healthy.
Westwood Square and many other neighborhoods in San Antonio see these barriers on a daily basis, he said.
“When you think of the 410 loop, it’s the far West Side sweeping over to the far East Side,” Cooper said. “It’s heartbreaking that, that one community wouldn’t have access and one would.”
Cooper said the food bank steps in to fill gaps, but its services shouldn’t be an end-all solution.
“Food is medicine,” Cooper said. “It’s culture. It’s tradition. It’s love. And when a community doesn’t have access to that, they feel alone. They feel forgotten.”
That feeling of forgottenness is widespread across Westwood Square.
Neighbors like Bocanegra said renovations, like the one scheduled at Las Palmas, are a step in the right direction.
But in the meantime, Westwood Square is left waiting again.
H-E-B said any customers who have concerns about their store or if they want to request a specific item be stocked on shelves can submit a note to the store management.