10 Things Your Grocery Store Doesn't Want You to Know
Grocery shopping seems like a harmless enough activity. It's a chore, but it's one that most of us do at least once a week, without giving much thought to what's going on behind the scenes at the supermarket.
How we shop has become a science that's studied endlessly. "Market researchers have worked for years to come up with ways to make sure shoppers see as many products as possible, because the more they see, the more they buy," says Marion Nestle, author of What to Eat: An Aisle-by-Aisle Guide to Savvy Food Choices and Good Eating (North Point Press, 2007).
So to make yourself a smarter shopper, learn about the top tricks and other secrets lurking at the supermarket.
1. The shopping carts have cooties.
According to studies done by Gerba and his colleagues at University of Arizona, shopping carts had more bacteria than other surfaces they tested—even more than escalators, public phones and public bathrooms. "These bacteria may be coming from raw foods or from children who sit in the carts," says Chuck Gerba, Ph.D., a microbiologist at University of Arizona. "Just think about the fact that a few minutes ago, some kid's bottom was where you are now putting your broccoli." To avoid picking up nasty bacteria, Gerba recommends using sanitizing wipes to clean off cart handles and seats, and to wash your hands after you finish shopping.
2. Dates are open to interpretation.
Except for baby formula and food, product expiration dates are not required by Federal regulations (some states, however, have their own rules requiring product dating). Labels that give a "Best If Used By" date are more of a suggestion than a safety issue—the food will taste best if eaten by the date on the label, but won't necessarily be unsafe if eaten after that. If a product is stamped with a "Sell-By" date, that is how long the store should display it. Once you bring it home, perishable products (like meats) should be kept refrigerated and used within a few days. For more detailed charts explaining the shelf life of various products, go to USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service.
3. Kid-friendly food is purposely placed within their reach.
Anyone who shops with a child (or several) in tow has to keep an eye out for products the kids grab and toss into the cart. "I always tell parents never to bring a kid to a store," says Nestle. "The packages with the cartoons on them are often placed on low shelves where even toddlers can reach for them." A trip down the cereal aisle will confirm this. "Sugary cereals are at kid's eye level, while the healthier, all-bran options are usually on the highest shelves," says Tara Gidus, R.D., a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. It's the same situation at the cash register, where candy and gum are strategically placed to encourage impulse buys by adults and kids can easily grab low-lying products.
4. They cut up food so they can charge more.
In the produce department there are luscious-looking slices of pineapple and melon, veggies cut up and ready for cooking or salads. At the meat counter, chicken breasts and beef are cut into chunks and marinated—ready for immediate grilling. There's no denying that these pre-cut foods can make life incredibly easy. And nutritionists agree that if they get people to eat more healthfully, there's nothing wrong with them. But realize that you're also paying a tremendous premium—sometimes up to twice as much as uncut versions of the same food—just so you don't have to bother picking up a knife.
be well, feel better
Stay lean and look fabulous with our complete exercise, food and motivation plan.
Fascinating clues to your health that your mirror can provide
What do these items have in common? They could be making your head hurt.
How to avoid twenty-first century health problems, from tablet neck to earbud-related hearing loss.
Experience more joy every day with these surprising new scientifically proven tactics.
Sunscreen strategies and formulas to help protect even the most sensitive skin from sun damage and cancer.
Get the facts on staying healthy and comfortable when the temperature rises.
Trick your brain into doing what you want it to do.