It’s 2017. You’ve already seen the articles on GetThinWithoutWorkingDotCom and LetUsShameYouAboutYourDietDotOrg, the ones telling you how you can’t eat stuff from the supermarket due to reasons. Reasons like how much BPA is in the packaging, or how many additives are in the recipe, or how they make the texture just right by adding tiny hairs from the wrong kind of beaver.
That stuff’s true, but it’s only half of the story… and not even the worst half.
We reached out to current and former grocery store workers, plus combed through some industry reports, and identified the grossest foods and biggest ripoffs in the industry. If you eat food, like, at all, you’ll definitely want to check out (see what we did there?) this list.
Editor’s Note: Naturally, all grocery stores aren’t created equally, especially when it comes to what’s natural. Take this with a grain of salt. But not too much salt. That’s usually a sign that something’s being covered up.
We’re gonna start you out with an easy one, a sort of appetizer before we dive into the truly maddening. That salad dressing in the fridge at the grocery has 12-20 ingredients and adds 100-200 calories to your dinner. And it costs somewhere between three and 10 bucks for a bottle. You can make your own dressing fresh with three to four ingredients costing you maybe a buck for a bottle’s worth, and drop the calorie count into the double digits. Besides, knowing how to make salad dressings is a cool dinner-party trick. It’s not even hard.
Pre-shredded or grated cheese
Those bags of easy pre-shredded cheese you buy for Taco Wednesday (because you’re bad at alliteration) are convenient, but did you ever wonder why the cheese doesn’t melt? It’s because the companies that make those bags cut costs by adding non-cheese fillers, including wood pulp. It’s like buying bacon only to find out that half the bacon is stuff that’s not bacon. Grate your own cheese. It’ll give you Popeye forearms if you eat as many tacos as we do.
Almost anything that’s not food
You go to the grocery store to buy groceries, but almost every trip includes grabbing paper towels, a lightbulb, some school supplies, and maybe a birthday card. You are getting super-duper boned on most of those non-food items. With the exception of paper disposables like TP and paper towels, these can cost 50% or more above what you’d pay in a store dedicated to those items. Buy that stuff at the hardware store, the stationary store, and the dollar store.
When produce goes really bad, it gets tossed out. When it just gets a little bad, they cut it up and put it in those big bowls of salad at the deli counter. They rely on strong-flavored ingredients like olives, cheese, and the aforementioned dressing to mask the flavor of slightly rotted veggies. (See also: anything in a brine.) You’re better off buying salad fixings fresh and making your own, or eating a big-boy salad at an actual restaurant.
Deli meat packaged in-store
It’s been a few decades since the first report hit the interweb tubes about how package expiration dates mean nothing. A lot of processed-food dates are artificially short so grocery stores have to re-order more often. In the meat aisle, plastering a new expiration date on expiring meat is just what you do on a Tuesday morning before tossing it in cellophane. Go to the butcher counter or an actual butcher and order your cuts fresh instead.
Remember what we just said about expiration dates on meat? When the meat really starts to near expiration, they cut it up and put it into soups and chili at the deli counter. To make it worse, health inspections aren’t too rigorous for those counters. Plus, that chili topped with wood pulp pre-grated cheese might have been made that morning and been sitting there all the way to lunchtime. Like with the deli salads above, go buy your lunch at an actual restaurant.
Impulse buys at the checkout lane
We warned you earlier not to buy anything that’s not food. When that not-food stuff ends up in the checkout aisles, it’s because it’s been sitting someplace else in the store and nobody’s bought it for weeks or months. They’re trying to move the old product to minimize losses, thus making their financial problem your financial problem. The food stuff up there is all calculated impulse-buy stuff. You don’t need any of it, and didn’t want it before you saw it was there. Practice your zen and resist the temptation. Just walk away. Actually, that’s a pretty good deal on peanut butter cups — NO!
Unless your grocery is in an ethnic neighborhood, keep the mangos, papayas, and starfruit out of your cart. That stuff’s exotic, meaning fewer people buy it. Meaning it stays there longer between rotations. So you combine a higher chance that the stuff has gone bad with a lower chance of your North American self being able to tell. Get the less familiar stuff from specialty markets you trust.
Anything unwrapped that touches your cart
Research found that about 72% of grocery store shopping carts have traces of poop on them. Those that don’t have still been touched by thousands of fingers belonging to babies, sick parents, heroin addicts, unhygienic World of Warcraft players, and other creatures of the night. Higher-end stores offer free antibacterial wipes at the corner where you pick up your cart, but who do they think they’re kidding. Use the bags (even the plastic bags when necessary, Hippie McEarthsaver) to keep your food from coming into contact with the contaminated trolleys, or ditch it.
By Jason Brick/Thrillist