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Thursday, August 27, 2009



This is a serious one.

I know that the elderly, especially those on a fixed income, frequent those big club and membership stores to partake of the free samples of food or beverages that are offered in the aisles throughout the store. These promotional samples are a way of getting customers to try new products and to buy things they hadn't come in for.

It works on me. I may try a sample of something, decide I like it, then go buy a couple of packages of the item to take home. I only take samples of things that I might actually be interested in. For example, I'd pass on free samples of anchovies. But I think some people try the samples just because they're free and if you can get enough of them, they might constitute a meal for some. I'm aware of that and I have absolutely no problem with that. It's not stealing, it's not harmful, and as long as it doesn't become an abusive activity where club members bring their family, friends and neighbors in for the free samples at lunch time, it may actually pay off for the store in increased sales of the stuff they're promoting.

The point I want to make here is that the sample-givers hand their samples to the customers in small containers, on toothpicks or forks, on a small plate, something that keeps the food from being handled or contaminated. Passing of the food from its source to the consumer is controlled and only one person touches the source of the food, and always wears latex gloves.

But then there are the oblivious, inconsiderate, abusive and disgusting slobs who frequent the open salad bars at well-known supermarket chains and help themselves to the food as if they were home eating over the sink.

I'd stopped into one of those local grocery chains to pick up a six-pack of a new drink that I like called FUZE. In particular the Black and Green Tea flavor which is hard to find. It's supposed to have all sorts of health benefits and vitamins. The label is quite enlightening, especially the part that tells me it "Contains equal antioxidant capacity as 2 SERVINGS OF VEGETABLES PER BOTTLE: Measured by Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC)." Pretty enlightening stuff and so much better than what you find on the side of a cereal box. Regardless, I like the drink anyway.

So I figured that while I was there, I might as well get a salad to take home for dinner later.

As I approached the salad bar I observed an old man with greasy hair and two day's stubble, his face covered with sores and blotches, standing over the salad bar helping himself to the pineapples bits.

With his hand.

Scooping them up out of the steel tray and slurping them into his mouth. Then scooping again and into his mouth again. As he moved on to the next item I decided to find the manager.

The manager asked me to point him out, which I did because he was still there, not eating at the moment, instead deciding what to sample next. As the manager approached, the old man casually backed away from the salad bar in what seemed to be an instinctive maneuver that made him look like an ordinary grocery shopper.

As the manager walked past the man, pretending he was on his way to the office, the old man watched him like a hawk, sensing he was being watched and knowing this guy was the manager. The manager turned, trying to catch the old man in the act, but the old man was ready. He had stepped back from the salad bar and appeared to be just another old man waiting for his wife to do her shopping. She was standing nearby, almost like a lookout. My guess is that this couple had this all worked out as a way to eat on a budget without any thought or concern for health issues. I don't know what caused the sores and blotches on the old man's face but I sure didn't want him handling food that unsuspecting customers might pack up and take home.

In this day of pending pandemics and runaway flu contamination, something needs to be done to keep people from sampling the goods this way. This is the kind of stupid behavior that kills people.

I'm sure the manager would argue that they can't afford to have someone there just to monitor the salad bar. But I would argue that if the entire salad bar is contaminated and might make lots of people sick, can the grocery chain afford to deal with the consequences?

To my way of thinking, the entire salad bar should have been thrown away, cleaned and replenished with fresh stuff. Instead, the manager said he would look at the surveillance tapes to see which salad items the old man had eaten or touched and would eliminate those items. He said he really couldn't do anything about it because he had not actually seen the old man do it. I told him I had seen him do it, but that doesn't count.

Not good enough for me.

I bought my FUZE and left.

From there I went to Whole Foods where I got a container of fresh salad ingredients. As I made my way around their salad bar I noticed a Whole Foods employee with a clipboard and a thermometer, testing the temperature of the trays that the food was in. I asked his opinion of what I'd just witnessed at the other store. He was appalled and agreed that the manager there should have scrapped the whole salad bar. He also suggested that the manager just didn't get it. "He really doesn't understand."

Almost simultaneously we said, "And that's why he's a manager at (the other grocery chain)."

I love shopping at Whole Foods.

This coming flu season, think about bringing your own serving utensils to the salad bar so you don't have to handle the spoon that someone else just used. And maybe bring a container of sanitary wipes to clean your hands, too.


Blogger BillRiling said...

Nt as funny as the others, but the subject matter is so serious what can you do... I'm done with salad bars.

8:47 AM  
Blogger Gaby said...

While you are eating your salad, I sugguest you continplate the fact that Whole Foods, has come to my town with two new stores just down the block from two homegrown health food stores. These stores have been in my community for over 20 years each. They have both used local produce and products, they donate to local charities and non-profits, and both have provided good service and jobs to our community. The money I spend at these stores stays in my community. While you sanitize your hands, think about the fact that now both their revenues are down, they may have to lay off people and they can no longer donate to the community in as large a way as in the past.

Oh well, so much for Whole Foods. And where exactely did that lettuce come from and when?


6:34 PM  
Blogger Bob Foster said...

Gaby -
I never thought of Whole Foods as one of those Big Box-type of stores that barges into a community and drives the Mom and Pops out of business. I really hate that. (Which is why I loathe WalMart. They are, by far, the biggest Mom and Pop killers of all, nationwide, and I never shop there. Never!)

About the only stores that Whole Foods had any impact on here are Ralph's, Vons and Trader Joe's. There are no small Mom and Pop grocery outlets in this town to be impacted by Whole Foods. In this case, Whole Foods has provided a very good alternative to the big food chains that have been here for years. The only downside to Whole Foods is their higher prices. But they do focus on organic food.

I never really thought about where the Whole Foods in my neighborhood got their product. Anyone who lives anywhere in the Los Angeles area doesn't have easy access to fresh produce, seafood, meats, dairy or baked goods without it being brought into their community from sources that I never considered until your comment. I know there are farms in the region, well out of the area, and I shop at the local farmer's markets as much as I can. Those markets usually are found on weekends. But at the end of a workday, when I want some good organic food, Whole Foods is about my only reliable source.

A couple of years ago I was living in Oregon and it was an immense pleasure to buy direct from the farmers at roadside stands. Fresh, wonderful food! And all the good restaurants in the Portland area used local sources.

I'm a big advocate of supporting farmers and not developing farmland. Oregon has a law against that, which is another reason I like Oregon so much. I'm also a big advocate of supporting the Mom and Pop shops in lieu of the box stores and chains.

I don't know where you are, but how did you manage to get TWO Whole Foods in your community?! Ouch!

If I had a couple of homegrown community stores in my area, I'd go out of my way to support them instead of any of the big box stores.

And that includes Whole Foods. Thanks for your comments and for giving us something to think about.

Oh... I just had a thought - Are the people who supplied their product to the two homegrown health food stores now selling their stuff to Whole Foods? I know Whole Foods probably pays more for their product, but some of the burden of community support should fall on the shoulders of the supplier, too, don't you think?

- Bob

1:01 AM  

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