Filed in Gather Food Essential by on August 27, 2007 0 Comments

Over the past few weeks, the Frugal Yankee has been tackling supermarkets. We are continuing this with a look at some more dirty little secrets lurking in the aisles and at the checkout counter.

We believe supermarkets aren’t evil. They’d just prefer to keep us in the dark. What we don’t know won’t hurt us, but Frugal Yankees want to know. And we want to make intelligent decisions. We’re savvy, diligent and curious.

With that in mind, here are more SUPERMARKET DIRTY LITTLE SECRETS.

COOTIES  So how clean are supermarkets? Are there lots of cooties and other nasties just waiting to make you sick? Maybe. A recent University of Arizona study found 60% of shopping carts tested had more germs than a typical public toilet seat. Shopping carts ranked #1 in nasties of all the items tested.  As one wag said, “Think about it, your fresh lettuce is placed where the last user might have been a drooling, in need of a diaper changing, tot. The bacterial possibilities are mind boggling.”

We’re not sure how bad it ireally is, but after a trip to the supermarket, we wash our hands, food, anything exposed to the ‘elements’. 

And look beyond waxed floors and neat aisles. Wonder how clean the supermarket really is. Are there flies, roaches, mice and rats? Probably. Keeping vermin out of any place where food and opportunity exists is difficult. Don’t assume supermarkets are any better at than your home. At the Frugal Yankee’s home, the annual migration of field mice into our basement is only thwated by ever vigilant cat, and a few dozen mouse traps. And just a few weeks ago, we had a food moth infestation. So when it comes to supermarkets, you should assume there are some critters and bugs hanging around. Assume, the food has been compromised.  Act accordingly.

A Frugal Yankee Rule of Thumb: Be Proactive! Protect your family with food sanitary practices


TIP: One of the very best santizers is a very mild solution of bleach and water. The mixture should be so mild, you can drink it, but it will still kill germs on contact.


It’s difficult to determine if your supermarket is doing a good job of keeping critters and nasties out, but here are a few questions and tips to help you.

• Check with your health department. Do they inspect? How frequently? How did your store(s) fare?

• When shopping, look out for dust, or dented cans.  Is there anything that says, “I’ve been here way too long?” If so, avoid, avoid, avoid.

• Are the employees using sanitary procedures? Plastic gloves? Hair nets? Etc.

• Are there any piles of boxes and trash handing around? Drive to the back of the store and see if it is neat and clean or is a place where critters would love to hang out and have a luau?

Now, none of these problems refer to the growing problem of tainted food from outside the US. That’s for another day.

DATES  Lots of dates on lots of products, but what do they mean?

Stickers on fresh food and meat that say “BEST IF USED BY”, it is a suggestion, not law. The Feds regulate some products, but not all. So be savvy. Use your senses. If it looks bad, if it smells bad, toss it.

The ‘SELL-BY’ sticker is also not a law; it is an internal guideline. The ‘sell-by’ means ‘how long it may be displayed’. This alerts supermarket employees when it is time to rotate the stock. 

As these items get closer to their ‘date’, many spermarkets mark them down. When you see such an item, inspect it carefully. Be sure it looks and smells fresh. If you do buy it, be sure to refrigerate it and, if not used quickly, freeze it properly.

A Frugal Yankee Rule of Thumb: Don’t believe dates. Use them as a guideline. Trust your senses.

TOSS THAT SALAD Germs can grow with abandon at salad bars. Hot food requires a constant 135º to remain safe. On the opposite end of the scale, fresh foods require 41º or lower to keep germs from growing. If one or the other isn’t being met, food poisoning is likely. Be careful.

If you see an empoyee restocking the bar, are they practicing proper sanitary techniques? If not, don’t partake, and if you’re concerned, call your health dpeartment.

A Frugal Yankee Rule of Thumb: Salad bars aren’t cheap and maybe potentially dangerous. Make your own.

IF THEY CUT IT, YOU’LL GET SLICED  A popular item in supermarkets these days is pre-sliced or pre-chopped veggies. It’s simple – cut up food costs more, a lot more. The only way a Frugal Yankee should buy chopped veggies is if you have a deep and abiding fear of knives.

A Frugal Yankee Rule of Thumb: If it’s chopped, it’ll chop your budget into bits.

IS IT REALLY A BARGAIN? We talked about this earrlier, but it bears repeating. Is that item really a deal? Maybe not. Look carefully. Was that 2-for-1 item at a lower price last week? Do you really need 10 loaves of bread to get that 11th one free? Bargains like these result in the average shopper buying 30% than normal. That’s why they do these sales.

A Frugal Yankee Rule of Thumb: Buy only what you need or can safely store.

SHOP DIFFERENTLY Stores are laid out to promote impulse buys. Lots of research, lots of smart minds and lots of money has been directed to have your run through the supermarket maze with one goal in mind: buy more. Don’t have to cruise around the perimeter or go up and down each and every aisle. Take a moment to figure out where you want to go. Here’s a trick, leave your cart at the end of aisle and walk from one end to another picking up items in your arms. Impulse buying will be inhibited by full arms.

A Frugal Yankee Rule of Thumb: Do it your way, not theirs.

Before we close out this topic, here are a few facts.

SUPERMARKETS NOT ECO-FRIENDLY In England, 35-40% of household waste comes from the packaging originally from supermarkets. We’re sure it’s not very different in the US. This usually ends up in the landfill, costing you more in taxes.

 EMPLOYEES ARE GETTING SHAFTED Steven Burd, the CEO for Vons/Safeway, a west coast supermarket chain, got an $11.5 million bonus for 2006. The average supermarket worker in LA makes $497 per week. In 2000 they made $587. Gee, I guess he got that bonus by stiffing his workers. Ain’t America grand?

Check out our web site,  FRUGAL for more tips as well as a recent survey showing which New England supermarkets have the best prices. We’ll give you a hint, the difference between two well known chains is 25%!

Please let us know how we’re doing. Leave a comment. And remember, it doesn’t take much to a Frugal Yankee, all you have to do is be smart, opinionated and downright thrifty.

Next week: Part 4 of our supermarket series: More Saving Tips 

About the Author ()

Leave a Reply