Friday, October 7, 2011

Shoppers In A Pickle Over Produce Sampling

Dear Tazi-Kat:

My best friend and I are having a disagreement, and we need an unbiased party to settle the matter. I say, when going to the grocery store, that it is okay to sample the fresh fruits to make sure that they actually are fresh and ready to eat. I am pretty sure that the cost of sampling is added into the price of the product, so if I am paying for it anyway I am going to get my money's worth. My best friend tells me that "sampling" is actually stealing, and that it is the cost of such theft that is added into the price; that if people stopped this practice, the price of fresh produce would be lowered. What do you say, Tazi-Kat?

Fresh Fruit Lover

Dear FFL:

Technically, both you and your best friend are correct. The practice of "sampling" is considered stealing by store proprietors, although I highly doubt they will see you slapped in handcuffs for it. Unless there is a Free Sample station set up for customers such as yourself to try before you buy, you are technically shoplifting. Since store-owners have come to expect this type of behavior from customers, many of them do amortize the loss into the price of what remains.  This, however, leads to a chicken-and-egg situation: Does the higher price entitle you to sample in the future or is the higher price due to sampling done in the past?

The sampling of small fruits, such as a single grape (not a small bunch) or cherry may be considered acceptable and is even expected; however, to sample larger items such as bananas, apples, pears, peaches, and other such fruits that are much more expensive per piece definitely crosses the line between sampling and stealing, and should not be attempted nor excused as an attempt to "make sure" that the items are fresh and ready to eat.

If you are so uncertain about the freshness of your produce that you simply must try before you buy, I would suggest that you shop locally at Farmer's Markets and from independently owned grocery stores that purchase from local farmers. Not only will you be helping to grow your local economy; but you may find the taste of locally grown food “fresher”, because it does not have to be picked before it is ripe in order to remain fresh through the extensive shipping process.  Knowing this should eliminate the need to eat food for which you may or may not have paid.



  1. As someone who would shop in the produce department, I say unless there is a stand offering the food, then it is considered stealing. Plus, think of the next customer who wants to buy those grapes. All the germs from someone's hand in that bag, or even paying money for missing grapes. As a deal shopper, I would not want to pay money for a bag of grapes with some missing, especially from someone who could have germs on their hands. I would not want Salmonella or any illness because of this.

  2. Maya, what an excellent point you make! I never considered the health aspect of the situation. I am quite fastidious when it comes to keeping clean, and I sometimes forget that not everyone cares as much about clean as a cat does!