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Can you open (and eat) food before you buy it at the grocery store?

Can you open (and eat) food before you buy it at the grocery store?
Posted at 5:30 AM, Sep 14, 2023

I admit it: I never buy grapes at the grocery store without trying one first. And if the grape I sample isn’t to my liking, I don’t buy the bag. This happened just yesterday, and a fellow shopper gave me a hard glare for a full three seconds.

Is this stealing?

There’s a viral video going around the internet right now, and it’s sparked a debate about whether or not it’s ethical to eat food at the supermarket before you get to the checkout counter.

Cecily Bauchmann posted a funny TikTok video of herself handing over an empty sushi carton to be scanned by the cashier — after she’d eaten its contents.

“I also opened this in-store,” she said sheepishly. “I’m sorry, I was so hungry.” Then she trailed off into chuckles. Off camera, you can hear the cashier saying, “OK. You’re good.”

Bauchmann titled the clip, “Me Every Time At The Grocery Store.”

@cecilybauchmann OPENING FOOD IS A NORMAL THING AT THE GROCERY STORE K?🍓✨#relatablemom #relatablemomlife #groceryshopping #groceryhaul #grocerystore ♬ original sound – Cecily Bauchmann

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Many people commented on the post, and they expressed a range of opinions. Some commiserated with Bauchmann.

“I do that too haha,” wrote user @yutanationxx. “If you pay for it at the end than I see no problem 🤷🏻‍♀️

“Feels so wrong but my two year old makes me do it to At least 3 items 😭,” wrote @desrenae.

I always do that bro it doesn’t matter,” wrote @viictoria.xo. “&when i was little i thought i was gonna get jumped or something if i did that 😭😭

But others questioned Bauchmann’s behavior.

“Isn’t that illegal?” wrote @summercodyyyy. “Just asking cause it seems like it’s illegal😭

“my husband works at a store that sells some food and he says it’s still stealing unless you paid first,” wrote @yinniebby.

As for me, I’ve always justified my grape-sampling behavior by reminding myself that “it’s just one grape.” And Sam’s Club and Costco let you sample products before buying them. Plus, if I buy lousy grapes, I’m going to have to wait in line at my supermarket’s customer service desk to be reimbursed. (Or, even more likely, I’ll just eat the cost and toss out the bad grapes.)

But those last two commenters I mentioned are actually correct, according to attorney Betty Wang. She told Scary Mommy that snacking on anything in a supermarket before paying is technically illegal. The painful truth (for me, anyway) is that a law-abiding citizen doesn’t sample the grapes! She just buys the bag and takes her chances that they’re good.

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With that said, Wang also told the site that most supermarket managers tend to let customers slide on in-store snacking as long as they pay for the item before leaving the store. And a grape here or there isn’t going to lead a store manager to press charges for theft.

Still, I felt even guiltier about this when I ran across a Twitter poll conducted a few years ago by NBC’s “Today.” Apparently, public opinion isn’t on my side. (I guess I could have learned this from my glaring fellow customer.) The poll asked the question, “Is it ever OK to eat food at the grocery store before you buy it?” And 46.6% said “no, never.”

What do you think? Is it ever OK to eat food in the supermarket before buying it?

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