17 Gross Secrets Grocery Store Employees Think Everyone Should Know

grocery store secrets
It’s a store that revolves around food, so you’d assume everything is pretty clean and up to code, right?

Heading to the grocery store to do your shopping for the week can be a pretty mundane chore — but unfortunately, it’s one we all have to do to, you know, eat regularly and all that. It can become such a boring task that it’s easy to fall into a steady routine. You know exactly which food is in which aisle, you have a list of what you need, and you can kind of zone out while grabbing the brands you usually buy. In other words, you probably don’t put a lot of thought into what’s going on behind-the-scenes at your local grocery store.

Sometimes. But other times, maybe not so much… at least according to this Reddit thread.

In the thread, grocery store employees spill on all of the things they think everyone shopping there should know.

A lot of it is pretty gross, and most of it will make you change up your habits a little bit, both at the store and once you get home. It’s kind of eye-opening, in a disgusting sort of way! But maybe it’s better we know this stuff so that we’re prepared.

Of course, every grocery store runs differently, so this isn’t going to apply to everyone. Still — it’s more than a little interesting.

1. A lot of people have touched your food before you bought it.

Remember to always clean and be careful about what you’re buying, because it’s been in the hands of many others before it reached your house.

Come on…

User Mr_Archer1216 said, “We touch everything. Everything. All the cans, bottles, jugs, jars, snacks — everything you see stocked on the shelves has had at least 5 people touch it already. And we don’t wash them. That’s your job.” If you’re feeling like a germaphobe right about now, start rinsing.

2. You should always clean the lids of any can before opening them.

Chances are good that you probably buy canned items and open them without a second thought when you get home.

But Reddit user damelavenganza warns, “You really need to clean the lids of cans before you open them. Truly.” Uh, that’s ominous.

3. Some of the meat is probably not quite as fresh as it seems.

When you buy meat, you should probably make it pretty quickly.

User ullric said, “I worked in the meat department at a higher end grocery store. The marinated meat was meat that was old, but not bad. Old meat that was about to go bad was mixed in with the ground meat, either sold as is or made into sausage. It was suggested we tell customers the ‘best’ option was what was going to go bad soon or what we had plenty of so we didn’t run out. None of these things are bad or wrong”

The explanation?

It is how we minimize food waste, and how we minimize wasting the meat provided by ending a life.” Minimizing food waste is good, but this still seems gross.

Oh God, there’s more.

There are a lot of reasons to thoroughly wash fresh produce: you want to avoid chemicals, potential food-borne illnesses, and bacteria lurking around.

But also, bugs.

User MiikeCan said, “Your green leaf lettuce was full of spiders and various other insects before we cleaned them. Pretty sure we got all of them.” Yes, it’s normal for veggies to have bugs on them, but… ick.

5. Beware everything, especially cauliflower.

As it turns out, certain gross bugs prefer some veggies over others. User JediAreTakingOver said, “Earwigs love cauliflower.” That is absolutely the last thing you want to see in your cauliflower!

6. Cashiers can’t do much about shoplifting.

Good news for, uh, shoplifters?

Most grocery store cashiers can’t do anything about it. User ferociousBirdThing said, “As cashiers, we were trained not to stop shoplifters. We could literally watch you carry something out of the store, and we couldn’t run after you or tell you to stop.”

The good news?

Most big stores have loss prevention teams that deal specifically with this type of thing instead.

7. If you change your mind about a perishable item, you should put it back yourself, or it will end up in the garbage.

It happens to all of us: you grab a bunch of items, then once you’re at the register, you realize you don’t actually need something, or it’s not the price you thought it was.

So, you hand it to the cashier so an employee can put it back. But what actually happens will leave you very sad.

Perishable items just get tossed.

That’s fine for non-perishables, but user StrawberryR said, “If you give the cashier anything to put back that’s frozen, it is 100% going in the trash. In a very rare circumstance, someone is available to run it back to the freezers so it doesn’t melt, but otherwise it just goes into our claims bin behind customer service.

It sits there until someone empties the bin in a few hours and it goes to the back of the store where someone else marks it as unsellable and throws it away.”

If you want to do your part to minimize unnecessary food waste, just make the trip to put it back yourself.

8. Ripped meat products usually get resold in a new package.

This is kind of unsettling.

User JunkBondJunkie said, “When I worked for HEB, the ripped meat packets would go back to meat market and reseal it and put it back on the shelf. You never know what kind of dirt from the belt that it may have been on.” Yikes!

9. There are creatures all around.

Grocery stores are not immune to bugs and other pests.

In fact, they probably have a lot more of them than many places. User HeftyPen said, “Most grocery stores have bad rodent problems.” Another reason to clean your cans!

10. A lot of the time, fresh fish is not great quality.

This is probably something that isn’t true about every grocery store, but it’s still worth mentioning.

This former employee had a lot to reveal.

User Punk_Rock_Chef said, “From my experience, most of that fresh fish you see isn’t what it’s labelled as, or is a much poorer quality than it’s portrayed [as]. From strained fisheries to outright fraud, unless you caught it or can run a DNA test, there’s no telling what that stuff really is.”

11. The bakery items aren’t fresh either.

Your grocery store might advertise fresh baked goods, but chances are high that they’re lying.

User ohwowohkay said, “Everything in our bakery comes in frozen, even the few things we actually do bake in store come in as frozen dough first. People who have been ordering cakes or buying the Italian bread for years will sometimes decide to stop buying them when they find this out. Did they think the 3 people they see in the department baked the 3,000 products we stock on the shelves from scratch every day? Do they think there is an army of minimum wage workers hidden in the back lovingly kneading breads and whispering encouragements to cake batter as it goes into the oven?”

Not so fresh…

While this isn’t necessarily gross — frozen baked goods can be delicious — it’s good to know, especially if you’re spending on it thinking it’s fresh!

12. The register belts are more disgusting than you think.

There’s a reason you should put loose produce in bags, because you don’t want them on the register belts when you check out.

You’ll never believe what this user says.

Readers, you’ve been warned.

User NegativePrize said, “Don’t ever place loose produce (produce not in a little clear plastic bag) on the belt, especially on busy days. Those belts get really dirty and I rarely have time to clean it while my register is live. Not only does it make your produce dirty, but it slows me down.” It also slows them down!

13. The salads at the deli are probably pre-packaged.

You know those big bowls of salad at the deli?

They aren’t as fresh as they might look. User kowalofjericho explained, “They’re all pre packaged and we just open bags and put it in bowls. Once we ran out of Potato salad and I told a woman that she should go to the cooler and take a pre-packaged one because it’ll be faster. She said, ‘I’ll wait.” 

What the employee did next truly surprised her.

Sorry, not sorry.

So I went over to the cooler, opened a pre-packaged 4lb tub and poured it into the serving bowl before weighing out the half pound she wanted. The look on her face was priceless, like I just told a kid Santa doesn’t exist. I think she expected me to start boiling some potatoes in the back or something.”

14. Grocery stores produce a ton of waste.

Lately, there’s been a movement of people trying to be less wasteful when grocery shopping — mainly, by bringing their own reusable bags and trying to avoid unnecessary packaging.

Well this is ironic, no?

But a lot of the time, the problem is really the store itself. User McWhiskey said, “If every grocery store is like the one I worked at, the amount of waste they produce will negate pretty much any efforts you can make as an individual to combat climate change.” That kind of stinks!

15. You should know the difference between “sell by” and “expiration.”

You can help cut down on food waste by realizing the difference between the “sell by” and “expiration” dates.

The reason?

User Vict0r117 explained, “Many products can be perfectly good to eat for up to three weeks past the sell by date. Coincidentally, we dump out tons and tons of perfectly good milk every week and by law are not allowed to donate it or keep it ourselves.  Always kinda bothered me that there are families in town who can’t afford groceries and there I was dumping out 80 gallons of milk that was still going to be perfectly safe and fine to eat for another 2 weeks.” That is definitely the worst.

16. There are a lot of chemicals on your produce.

In an effort to keep produce clean, grocery stores douse them in cleaners that are not good for you.

Sigh, this is just dangerous.

User violet_wet_dream said, “Wash EVERY PIECE of fruit and vegetable you buy. No matter what. The chemicals used to make food ‘clean’ for purchase can make you sick. And the pre-cut fruit and veggie trays are the worst for leftover chemicals.”

17. Don’t shy away from store brand products.

And finally, some good news!

You should be taking advantage of store brand products to save money. User Shay_da_la said, “Buy the store brand/off brand basics, (milk, eggs, flour etc). It’s literally the same exact thing from the same exact place as the more expensive brand name stuff.”

Oh and there’s more.

He got very real about his experience.

When I worked at a grocery store, we would occasionally get products with a label from from another store mixed in with our stuff. Also quite a bit of store brand/brand name stuff is made at the same facilities (with differences in recipes) This is not always the case but it happens more often than you think.”

We know what you’ll be thinking about the next time you’re grocery shopping. Good luck!

Make sure to warn your friends and share these secrets, NOBODY should even touch that conveyor belt.

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