DANGEROUS AISLES: What’s really lurking in your grocery store aisles?

Bon Matin! For those of you who aren’t familiar with the French language, as you can probably discern from the way I’ve been starting my posts each morning, it means Good Morning! I decided to add some variety, instead of my usual, bland Good Morning! Anyhow, let’s start off with my eats for the morning, per usual:

Breakfast (Wednesday, July 10, 2013):

1 container America’s Choice Blueberry Greek Yogurt (FYI – America’s Choice is Pathmark Grocery Store’s own line of yogurt. Though some may shun store brand goods, this brand of Greek yogurt is definitely up to par and comparable with some of the other name-brand Greek yogurts, plus it is typically .78 cents compared to other Greek yogurts which are considerably more costly, outside of a sale/coupon).

1 cup Special K Red Berries (I know, it’s appeared several times on the blog already, but what can I say, I truly believe my Special K really is “special.”)

1 Banana (The infamous banana; it is a staple!).

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So, to start today’s musing, anyone who knows me well, knows I frequent grocery stores several times per week. Many of the items I routinely purchase are perishable, therefore I only buy a small amount a time, requiring me to stop at the store pretty frequently. Of course, I don’t really mind, I love browsing the stores for new and innovative products, plus the store is only a couple minutes from my home. However, recently, I’ve been becoming increasingly frustrated with my beloved grocery stores, discovering expired goods, such as yogurt and even shelf-stable items such as crackers on store shelves, STILL being sold and toted as fresh.

To make matters even worse, at one grocery store, a family-owned store with a couple locations throughout the state of Pennsylvania, had numerous expired yogurts on their shelves, dating back as far as the beginning of the previous month. To say the least, I was horrified and outraged, especially when I ended up PURCHASING one of the expired yogurts and had to bring it back. Frustrated, I approached a young man stocking the yogurt shelves, showing him the expiration date. He looked at me, shrugged his shoulders and was silent. I asked if I could speak to the grocery department manager and he informed he was not there that day and asked if I would like to speak to the main grocery store manager. Of course, I accepted and upon speaking with him, he simply informed me they recently let the previous dairy department manager go because he was failing to do his job and are now “playing catch-up.” He didn’t appear to understand my frustrations and was less than sympathetic. Still, each time I visit this particular store, I make it a point to check the dates with extreme care and caution, which I encourage, you as fellow consumers to do, as well.

On another occasion, even more recently, at a notable grocery store chain, I spotted several yogurts of a certain variety well past their expiration dates and again approached a grocery department worker, stocking the shelves. This time, he responded, “Oh, we’re short-staffed and there are too many yogurts to check.” To me, this was not a good enough excuse. In fact, in my opinion, there really is no excuse for expired items on shelves. Not only is it placing consumers at heightened risk, but it is also failing the companies who take care in producing high-quality products.

Therefore, amidst my mounting frustrations, I composed a short editorial, hoping to inform consumers of what to be wary of while shopping, no matter how tired, frustrated they are while shopping in stores. Without further adieu:

Gloomy weather beckons as a woman in heels stumbles to her car, briefcase in one hand, her I-Phone in the other. She is frantic, glaring at her phone, as the time stares back at her. In a matter of a half hour, she must manage to make it through rush hour traffic on the city highways, retrieve her two children from daycare, and zip through the grocery store to assemble ingredients needed for a simple, yet nutritious meal for her family. To her and perhaps others in similar situations, achieving this feels impossible, yet it is a routine three out of the five days of the work week.

Much to her surprise, she arrives at the grocery store toting her two irritable, tired children, dragging her own feet as she enters the grocery store, attempting to shield herself and her children from the light rain which has begun to fall. Once inside, she is on automatic pilot, shuffling over to the dairy section to retrieve the Greek yogurt she is substituting for sour cream in her dinner recipe that evening. Though perishable, she neglects to glance at the expiration date, placing the majority, if not all of her trust in her grocery store, a prominent chain in the retail grocery chain market. Grabbing the rest of her groceries, she and her children finally make their way to the checkout line and are soon en route to their final destination; home.

Once in the comfort of her own kitchen, the young mother and wife begins to unpack her newly-purchased groceries, smiling and singing along to the DVD her children are currently watching.  Once unpacked, she retrieves the recipe for dinner from her e-reader, having bookmarked it for easy access. It occurs to her of the simplicity of the recipe, feeling confident and secure in her ability to prepare a nutritious and delicious meal for her family. However, upon opening the container of Greek yogurt, her eyes suddenly dart to the expiration date lightly imprinted on the label, a date already nearly a week in the past. Already exhausted from the musings of her day at work and after work tasks, she becomes increasingly angry and frustrated, having been let down not only by herself, but also her trusted grocery store. However, she began to wonder, was she the one solely to blame, or was her grocery store, a notable chain in the market, also a legitimate scapegoat?

Housing expired items on grocery store shelves appears to be that of a common occurrence as of lately. Over the last month or so, as a frequent consumer of perishables such as non-dairy, refrigerated milk, as well as yogurt, and other dairy products, while shopping in my local grocery stores, I have encountered several containers of yogurt passed its expiration date still available for purchase on shelves. In fact, I, too, experienced a situation similar to the woman I highlighted above, forced to return to the grocery store, receipt and expired product in hand, left to question who is in the wrong – myself, or the grocery store?

Sure, consumers have a responsibility to ensure what they are buying is fresh and in its prime, however, at the same time, consumers, in my opinion, should be able to trust the stores they are shopping in and have confidence in the freshness of the items on shelves. Shopping at a grocery store can be both pleasurable and daunting. Some consumers may enjoy it, taking the time to browse, take in samples, delight in new and innovative products on shelves, while others may dread it, considering it nothing more than a necessary evil to keep themselves nourished while at home or on the go. Or for some individuals, such as the woman described above, it is a store they visit for a fill-in trip, often after a long, hard day at work, when the only place they wish to be is home. Instead, these individuals are forced to spend time checking each label with care, unsure as to whether or not the products they purchase will be fresh as it should be.

In a world where foodbourne bacteria and illness has become increasingly more common and in some occasions a deadly occurrence, in my thoughts, it is first and foremost the responsibility of grocery stores and more specifically, its employees to ensure the products they are placing on shelves are fresh and in its prime. Whereas in regards to consumers, there is a responsibility that lies in being an advocate for not only oneself, but for their families, taking a moment or two to inspect products’ expiration dates. When contemplating the reason behind the appearance of expired products on shelves, a question can be posed as to whether or not it is solely the negligence of employees who receive poor management and direction from supervisors and managers, and if this is not the case, then what exactly is the reason?

Consumers deserve answers and fresh, current products on shelves and while they may have a hand in inspecting goods, prior to purchasing, retail stores also have a responsibility not only to consumers, but also to producers of the goods being sold, who take care to ensure their products are of high, safe and edible quality. Grocery store employees are paid to serve consumers and therefore, this means not only through ringing up their groceries, but also taking care to ensure the products on shelves are well prior to their expiration dates.  Not only is money wasted by allowing goods to expire on the shelves, but it is also placing consumers at the utmost risk for illness, especially for those already with compromised immune systems, in addition to children and teenagers, who are still in prime growth periods and developmental stages.

Image  Do you know what’s in your cart?

Question: Have you ever purchased and/or spotted expired goods on your grocery store shelves?

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