HOME > Chowhound > Not About Food >


Cherry tomatoes on the floor

At my local market the other day, a mishap caused the produce stock person to spill a clamshell box of cherry tomatoes all over the floor. I watched as he picked them all up, put them back into the clamshell box and then put the box on the produce shelf for sale.

Most people wash their produce before eating, but even so I don't think it was appropriate to return the tomatoes that were on the floor to the retail shelf. I said to him, "you can't sell that" and without a word he removed the box from the shelf to his cart. Nevertheless I have no doubt once I was out of sight that clamshell box of tomatoes made its way back to the shelf.

Would you have said anything?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. those tomatoes have been in contact with a lot more than the grocery-store floor before they get to your cart. not fussed. (eta: and that floor has been washed sometime in the last 24 hours...)

    Had it been apples/oranges/onions/tomatoes in a bulk bin that hit the floor (the pile gets off-balance), it wouldn't be any different -- and somehow I doubt that the store would be willing to chuck five pounds of oranges that went on the floor.

    Now-- had it been cut fruit or something wet/oily/not typically washed prior to consumption, it would have been an issue.

    1. Let's see. A farmer with unwashed hands picked those tomatoes, threw them into a bin, where they were trucked in the open air (bugs and flies, oh my) to a warehouse, sorted, packaged, and shipped to your market, handled by the produce guy, touched by other customers with various diseases and ideas about bathroom hygiene, and you are worried that they might have touched the FLOOR?

      4 Replies
      1. re: Isolda

        Yeah and what about the guy who had stepped in a pile of dog poop on his way into the store and 'deposited' some of it just where the tomatoes landed. Or maybe some landed on the spot where someone spit?
        It's irrelevant who did what with the tomatoes before they got into the store. Once those tomatoes are delivered to that store the store owns them. It's the principle of the thing if anyone cares about that anymore. I owned and managed a restaurant. The first thing I said to new employees is "any food that hits the floor hits the garbage. No exceptions. The next thing you do is go wash your hands after picking whatever up".
        'Assuming' that everyone washes their produce before eating it is a tad naive.

        1. re: Puffin3

          oh, let's add in fertilizer and pesticides and bird poop and bug poop and juice from rotting tomatoes dripping down from above and and and all the myriad things that are possible simply because there's a mathematical possibility that they could exist, regardless of what the realistic chances really are.,\...

          we can completely gross ourselves out if we really want.

          But hitting the floor in the grocery store isn't going to render them toxic. Ever.

          And it's not the grocery store's fault if someone doesn't wash the tomatoes...and proving that it is is going to be statistically approaching impossible.

          1. re: Puffin3

            Dropping prepared food is one thing; dropping produce is another. I'd definitely throw out the former, but I think it's best to just assume all produce is dirty and wash it well.

            My mother used to buy elephant dung from a zoo in Seattle to fertilize her garden, so I knew for sure that anything she grew had excrement on it!

            1. re: Puffin3

              Naive would be assuming the produce you buy is perfectly clean and sterile.

          2. The dirt /germs aspect doesn't bother me. But cherry tomatoes bruise pretty easily, and there's a good chance that some of those repackaged ones will turn mushy and then moldy within 24 hours, so I would not want to be the customer who innocently picked up that box. I'd feel the same way about strawberries. But oranges, onions, broccoli - that wouldn't concern me.

            1. things like that should be done in the back room where no one can see it happen.

              3 Replies
              1. re: KaimukiMan

                And that was exactly my point. Lots of nasty stuff happens to produce when we're not looking, so why get worked up about the stuff we do happen to see?

                I'm pretty squeamish, so I just assume my produce is dirty and wash it.

                1. re: Isolda

                  as they say, sausage can be great stuff, but sometimes you don't want to watch them making it.

                2. re: KaimukiMan

                  Exactly my thoughts. Seeing the produce stock person actually do the dirty deed made all the difference. Like it broke through the veneer that hides shoddy retail practices.

                3. I used to work produce back in the day. Trust me, what hits the floor should be the least of your concerns. Everyone should wash their produce.

                  There are all kinds of ways for "gross stuff" to get on the produce. Produce workers are not typically watched as closely as those working around prepared foods. At least in my day, hand washing was strictly optional. Not that it really mattered. You know how much rotten stuff goes through a produce department? I've stuck my fingers in rotten fruit, onions, tomatoes, etc. more than you can imagine. Was I ever told to wash up? No sense in it. Whatever was on my hands probably made its way to other stuff.

                  Ever seen a bag of potatoes or onions or oranges with a rotten one in it? (Suggestion: If you have such a bag and it smells good, like great onion or orange smell, it likely has a rotten one in it.) We'd do one of two things. Replace the rotten one, or dump the nonrotten ones into the bulk bin. We never washed a single nonrotten one. If a nonrotten one had a bit of mold from a rotten one, we might wipe it on our apron, and God only knows the last time we washed that.

                  And I would never buy anything obviously prepared by the produce department, such as sliced melons or convenience packages.

                  Edit: I meant to add that we'd very often go from handling root vegetables ( lots of dirt) to just about anything else, apples, lettuce, etc. I have heard it mentioned that it is quite ironic that we are generally so squeamish about meats and yet we think nothing about popping unwashed grapes in our mouths and other things. The risk of, say, fecal contamination in produce is not insignificant.

                  20 Replies
                  1. re: ttochow

                    Why do you avoid items prepared by the produce dept? I've always been suspicious that cut up items weren't washed well etc but am curious as to your reasons.

                    1. re: olyolyy

                      Hmmm...I posted something longish on this, and it seems to have disappeared. Oh well.

                      The upshot was that the same cleanliness issues are present, but have been moved to the interior of the food - the part one might eat.

                      But mostly the produce for the prepared stuff made by the produce department, in my experience, came from stuff that could not be sold otherwise. A canteloupe busted during shipment could have it's good parts packaged. The good side of a half-rotted grapefruit could be sold. The defect of something could be hidden on the nonvisible side of a package. Sometimes it was just something that sat in the bulk bin that nobody wanted to buy. In my experience, the packaged stuff was the last chance to sell something.

                      1. re: ttochow


                        I wash all my produce when I bring it home, the melons included. I'm not going to purchase 'already sliced fruit' and do the same thing so I don't purchase it.

                        1. re: ttochow

                          You definitely have a point about the cleanliness issues, but I don't see why the good part of a bust cantaloupe should be wasted. I'm sure there are some folks who would be grossed out to know that their pico de gallo was made out of the good half of a partially rotten tomato, but... hell, why waste that good half?

                          I work for a small produce company, and the stuff that gets busted or is partially bad we get to take home. It's perfectly serviceable. But I suppose the big difference there is that the customers buying the convenience packs are paying for it and I'm not. *shrug*

                          1. re: Kontxesi

                            If I cut soft/brown spots out of a melon, I still eat the good parts....

                            1. re: sunshine842

                              I am speaking more about cases where the integrity of the exterior has been compromised under unknown conditions.

                              All I've said is that I personally would not buy produce-department packages because, in my experience, what went into them was often stuff I would not have used myself, even if the damage had happened after I bought it. And I knew the people who made it, unfortunately myself included (I did not know better and I was not taught better). I see what my local stores put in packages, and I know why it's there. And I've gotten to know the people who put it there. No thanks. I'll pick my own.

                              Using defective produce makes sense - except in unusual cases, I can't imagine a produce manager using the best produce to make this stuff. Why would I buy it?

                          2. re: ttochow

                            Interesting, thanks. I never thought about that but it makes sense.

                        2. re: ttochow

                          <I would never buy anything obviously prepared by the produce department>

                          We all the have the opportunity to buy them and I've always wondered about the hands of the person, and where they've been, who prepared it.
                          Much like the little old woman, in the park downtown LA, who strolls around with a baby stroller filled with the sliced fruit she sells to whoever wants to take the chance.

                          1. re: latindancer

                            except for the minor difference that a grocery store is subject to health department rules and regulations (several levels) and surprise inspections, as well as the even-greater threat of liability lawsuits.

                            The lady in the park, not so much.

                            1. re: sunshine842

                              My small grocery, which may not be all bright and shiny, has its cut fruit and vegetables done in full sight, by an employee wearing gloves.

                              1. re: coll

                                the grocery I shop at in the states does, too -- but I'm not dumb enough to make a blanket statement about all or even most on this board...

                                1. re: sunshine842

                                  Whoa, sorry about whatever I said. How do I keep ending up on NAF?

                                  1. re: coll

                                    no, no -- wasn't snarling at you -- that I had the same thought, but didn't want to make a blanket statement about groceries and gloves and windows because someone would jump down my throat....

                                    ...obviously that strategy didn't go over so well.... :S

                              2. re: sunshine842

                                The grocery story is subject, of course. To assume inspectors are enforcing rules and regulations, constantly, isn't the case., at least in the state I live in....there're just not the resources. Usually it's a whistle blower that sees something & calls it in that gets things moving.

                                The lady in the park? Never seen it happen with the one little lady I'm thinking of.

                                1. re: latindancer

                                  my point being that the lady in the park doesn't have the threat of health inspections....there is no downside risk for her....no licenses, inspections, regulations -- you just have to assume that she's keeping everything reasonably clean. (and the fact that she's selling cut fruit NOT on ice out of an old baby stroller would be a fairly strong reason to NOT assume she's following even the same safety reasons you'd follow in your own house)

                                  Bigger companies tend to be a little more vigilant because of the spectre of deep-pockets liability....they're more vigilant, because if 15 people get sick because of the fruit salad sold at store 956, they're looking at a major liability suit/out-of-court settlement.

                                  I really don't care if their motivation is genuine concern for the health of their customers, or that they don't want to get their ass sued off.. but the end result is the same.

                            2. re: ttochow

                              Most of us are aware that grocery stores are in the business to make money, that food profit margins are razor thin, and just like in a restaurant, waste increases food cost. Nevertheless it was slightly shocking to observe this at an upscale market.

                              I'm sure these practices and worse are common. My local market, while is presents itself as upscale, doesn't have a good produce manager so the displays often have rotting fruit or vegetables and clouds of fruit flies. I have to be very careful when I buy there, and often choose to buy produce elsewhere and even shop entirely elsewhere as a result. I know that stuff rots, I just wish it was removed from the display.

                              I always wash all my produce, but after reading your reply I might start using soap too!

                              Thanks for the insight. Oh, and why do you say "I would never buy anything....prepared by the produce department..."?

                              1. re: janniecooks

                                jannie, what is it that you think those tomatoes could have come into contact with on a linoleum store floor (that has been washed at some point in the last 24 hours) that is worse than the fertilizers, pesticides, runoff from whatever is uphill, various body fluids from passing animals (human and otherwise), bird poop, bug poop, decaying insects, detritus from dead/decaying leaves, flowers and fruit, whatever is in the rain that falls on the field, the soil that it grows in, the harvest crates, the pickers' and packers' hands, the plastic boxes, and anything else that they might have come into contact with?

                                If you really want to look at it from a scientific basis, the contaminants that you might find on the supermarket floor are the least of your worries -- because they've had very little time to breed from the time you buy them until you get them home and into a vat of bleach.

                                1. re: sunshine842

                                  I'm not ignorant of the possible, potential or real contaminants that are part of the whole growing/distribution/retail process, nor that such contaminants may or may not be more toxic that whatever contaminants might be on the retail floor. And I'm not ignorant of the fact that maybe much worse happens behind the scenes in the produce department. But the overt action of taking stuff from the floor and placing it on the retail shelf is disturbing. Food stuffs, even in cans and cartons, are required to be stored off the floor. Why should it be acceptable then to take edibles off the floor and put them on the shelf?

                                  1. re: janniecooks

                                    they were *dropped*, not stored. By your own words, he picked them up, put them back in the box, and put them back on the shelf.

                                    A dropped tin of peas would be picked up and put back on the shelf, as would a loaf of bread, a candy bar, a gallon of milk (assuming it didn't burst), a bag of onions, or a half-dozen apples that had rolled off their display.

                                    What would you have done if those tomatoes were in a net bag? A bulk display that spilled?

                                    There is nothing on the supermarket floor that renders anything toxic. Ever.

                                    A reminder to wash our produce before eating it, perhaps..

                            3. I wouldn't be worried so much by the cleanliness, rather the bruising of the tomatoes.

                              I for one don't make sauce with cherry tomatoes.

                              1. OK. How about the grocery store put up a sign that read "One of these containers of tomatoes spilled on the floor. Then one of our staff picked them up a put them back in the display. Guess which one". Yeah right. IMO it's the principle of the thing.

                                1. Jannie, I'd be more worried about whether the cook that made me a beautiful bowl of pasta washed his hands after his bathroom visits.

                                  2 Replies
                                    1. re: pinehurst

                                      Stop worrying. He didn't. Now eat your food before it gets cold! LOL A friend of one of our kids has a job at a 'box store'. The produce workers bring him anything that has mold or is going rotten or has hit the floor. He's the one that cuts all those nice pieces of veg and fruit into bite sized pieces and arranges them perfectly on those nice plastic expensive 'party platters' for when Ann is getting her surprise retirement lunch put on by her follower office workers.
                                      He had to go take a three day workshop to learn how to tell the difference between a tomato that had just a day left compared to one that could hang in there for three days.