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Bad produce, what's the right thing to do?

I have been wondering about this issue since it happened the other day. Let me just start by saying that our family (2 adults, 3 kids) eats no processed food, for serious health reasons. We buy and consume probably $200 a week worth of fruit and veggies. I shop at local farmers markets and also at two small area groceries. We live in a rural area, stores aren't close by, a trip to food shop takes me one hour, minimum. I have bought a fair share of crappy produce, I usually save my receipts and return the items with an explanation. I think it stands to reason that if I buy as much perishable food as I do, I have to return things often. Does that make me a bad person? My kids eat no sugar, are always happy to eat good fruit, request that even at parties. If we buy fruit with no flavor, why should I flush the money down the toilet? I', asking because I had to return a bag of peaches and a bag of oranges yesterday at the store. The peaches were moldy, I saw that when we got home. (They, along with the oranges, were pre-bagged by the store), I bought them because they were on sale with a big sign that said "Sweet and Juicy" for both items. The oranges were not moldy, just had no flavor, the kids took them into school with their lunches and I chucked what they didn't eat (almost all of it) into the compost. I returned what was left of the remaining, uncut fruit. When I took the items back, the manager had a gruff attitude, said maybe the peaches got moldy after I put them in the bag to return them. I definitely got an attitude from her, but, in all fairness, I have returned mangoes there this year, and she also dealt with me then, and she was decent. I'm sure she remembers me only from that, not the hundreds of dollars I've spent in their store in between with great satisfaction. I need and will respect to hear your objective opinions, even if you disagree with my actions, I just want to know what I should do in the future?

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  1. I also eat a lot of fruits and vegetables, and I also refuse to pay good money for bad produce, which is why I am extremely selective about where I shop, and why I shop several times a week. However, it does not seem like you are willing or able to do this since you said you live in a rural area.

    That said, you note yourself that produce is perishable, and I don't think it's necessarily fair to the store if you are buying too much and it is going bad at home because you are expecting it to last all week. If your only complaint is that something has "no flavor," try finding something else to do with it so you can minimize how frequently you are making returns-- you do not want to be blacklisted as a chronic returner!

    As far as what you can do to prevent this from becoming a recurring problem, make sure you inspect what you are buying carefully, and that you select climacteric fruit on the underripe side-- hard avocados, green bananas, etc. Transport all refrigerated produce in a cooler since you have a bit of a drive. Make sure you are storing produce correctly. Don't be drawn in by sales if it doesn't look good enough to purchase at full price. Try samples if offered, or ask for a sample before buying a huge bag of something. Consider buying some vegetables frozen if you will just be cooking with them anyway. Vegetables picked and frozen at their peak often retain vitamin and antioxidant content better than fresh vegetables. If you do notice a problem, call the store immediately and let them know; don't wait until your next trip. And if at all possible, try to make more frequent shopping trips, at least twice a week, so you are serving your family only the best and freshest. Good luck.

    1. "Hey, you got a bad peach? That’s an act of God. He makes the peaches. I don’t make the peaches, I sell the peaches. You have a problem? You talk to him."

      I have to agree.

      2 Replies
      1. re: travelmad478

        I only buy plums that are red on the inside.

        1. re: John E.

          ...then give me all the mirabelles and greengage (Reine-Claude) that you leave behind, please

      2. If you BUY bad produce, a refund is reasonable............If you OVERBUY.........well, then that is your fault...and with so many things you can do with "almost gone" Fruits and Veg, I'm surprised you would have many returns at all

        1 Reply
        1. re: FriedClamFanatic

          I agree. While I understand the "tasteless" complaint If you buy bags of fruit on sale there is usually a reason it's on sale. Wouldn't those peaches have made a great compote, jam, ice cream, pie, etc? How much did it cost you to drive back and return them?

          The best advice I ever got from a local chef was before you commit to buying produce at a farmer market or even a big box grocery, is to buy a single piece and eat it. It greatly reduces your chance of buying tasteless, mealy or otherwise unappetizing produce. I have found that many farmers, when I explain what I am doing are happy to give me a "test" piece. These are the ones you know have the good stuff that they are happy to stand behind!

          Another option is to get to know the owners! You said these are small farmers markets and grocers, right? These places live and die by regulars and you said you spend $100's of dollars a week! Introduce yourself and your kids. Let them know how much you enjoy shopping there and how much you and your kids love good fruit and veggies. Start by focusing on the good- the wiill be less testy when you point out the bad.

        2. Sorry, I wasn't clear, the peaches had mold on them the same night I came home from the store, I opened the bag they were in and discovered that when I was putting the groceries away. I have been buying produce for well over 20 years, I would never dream of returning stuff that grew mold or spoiled because we didn't eat it in time.

          1 Reply
          1. re: kmlmgm

            If it was one or two peaches, then I'd have just chucked them and mentally chided myself for not having looked them over well enough before I bought them.

            If it was the whole bag that was mouldy when you got them home, then it was kinda your fault for not having looked them over at all.

          2. If the food is spoiled when you purchase it, return it. If it spoils in an unreasonably brief amount of time after its purchase, return it. If you let it hang around too long before eating it and it spoils, tough luck.

            1. I think you are perfectly within your rights to return both items, and the manager should just have been gracious and refunded you.

              Perhaps one lesson you (unfortunately) learned the hard way is not to buy produce in a closed bag unless you can take out each piece and inspect it before you buy. If you had a long drive home on a hot day, it would only take one slightly off peach in a paper bag to get that mold going.

              Also, I'm not sure where you're located, but where I am, I would never buy oranges at this time of year because they would have been trekked in for days in a refridgerated truck and I would thus expect them to be tasteless.

              Best wishes regarding the health problems.

              1. Buying produce (and meat and seafood, for that matter) is always a bit of a crap-shoot. That said, you are right and quite reasonable. I think you are a good person.

                1. It's not the store's fault if the oranges weren't sweet. That's a chance you take when buying a natural product. If the peaches were moldy in the bag when you bought them, then yes, return them. Honestly, I've never seen prebagged peaches in a store before.

                  We buy a lot of fruits and veggies for our 2 adult, 2 kid family but I spend about $50 for them. One of the benefits of living in Southern California, I guess!

                  1. Thank you all for taking the time to respond. You have given me a very balanced outtake on the bigger picture. I agree, it's almost irresponsible to buy fruit that nature didn't intend for us to eat, either by buying out of season for our area citrus or by buying mangoes in upstate NY, period. I also love the idea of introducing myself to both the store manager as well as the produce managers. You're right, I've never taken the time to tell any of them how much I appreciate their attempt at providing a good selection of usually excellent products. I think that is a great opportunity for my kids, too. I hate to refuse them when they are begging for a fruit that I know can't be in season, so I often buy it anyhow, knowing it could be crap. I could use this, instead, to teach them about our impractical society and the growing need for everything to be at our fingertips instantly. Thank you!

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: kmlmgm

                      I also like the idea of introducing yourself to the produce manager, especially since you need to buy such quantities. I'm sure the mgr. will be pleased to be approached from your positive stance of "appreciate...providing a good selection of usually excellent products."

                      That said, I wouldn't return something because I found it "tasteless." That's such a subjective assessment. Moldy--absolutely, but I'd probably call that very day & let 'em know, under the guise of "you might want to check your stock" and let 'em know I'll be returning mine in a few days.

                      1. re: pine time

                        I have returned watermelons and cantaloupes for being pale, tasteless, and crunchy on the inside. Oranges? Probably not for being tasteless, but yes if they are dry on the inside.

                    2. store prebagged, discount stuff is going "off." buyer beware.

                      1. First; you've taught an important lesson, never buy pre-packaged produce. I also eat a lot of fresh veggies and fruit (about 20lbs/wk) so, in the hotter months I make several trips to the store/farmers market to ensure I'll have minimal spoilage. I agree, that if something does not taste good, it's going back. The store is responsible for ensuring they purchased good quality produce 'cus I'm sure they're selling it for good money.

                        9 Replies
                        1. re: treb

                          You know, you bring up a good point. I think that stores should refuse shipments of inferior produce. Unfortunately, they are probably not in a position to be able to do so; their corporate office probably demands that they always have a supply of certain types of produce, regardless of whether they can get high-quality versions or not.

                          So I guess businesses have to decide whether they want to stock bad/mediocre oranges or no oranges at any given time. On one hand, they don't want to have a reputation for carrying bad produce; on the other, they don't want to be known for out-of-stocks or not carrying "staples", either.

                          1. re: sandylc

                            The produce comes in in bulk on pallets and the distributor has to trust his suppliers and the stores have to trust the distributor. Too many rotten melons and they switch suppliers.
                            As for taste, do they have a taste tester? The nicest looking peach can sometimes have no taste at all.

                            1. re: Motosport

                              We've both made great arguments in favor of small businesses rather than huge ones. Too bad the small ones don't have more buying power to get the better prices.

                              1. re: sandylc

                                In our area the bigger stores don't always have the best prices. They don't have the best produce by far.
                                They also seem to favor shrink wrapped packaging of produce. UGH!!

                                1. re: Motosport

                                  Ha - I was thinking "UGH" when I read the shrink-wrapped part of your post; then I saw that you took care of that already!!!

                            2. re: sandylc

                              I think the produce managers will call their supplier and tell them if there is a problem, no matter what size the operation. We buy a lot of our produce, fruit mostly, from Bob's Produce Ranch in Fridley. They recently had some Colorado peaches that were some of the best peaches I've ever eaten. Of course the really, really good peaches never make it out of their production area.

                              1. re: John E.

                                An amazing peach comes right off of the tree or not far from it, unfortunately.

                                Some pretty darn good ones might occasionally get to stores around here - looks like you really scored on that one.

                                1. re: sandylc

                                  On Friday I bought more peaches. They are so ripe that we should have eaten them the same day.

                                  However, I did buy a watermelon on Friday that was terrible, it was quite under ripe. I will mention it the next time I'm at Bob's, but will not ask for a refund.

                                  When my father was a kid he worked at a grocery store. He said they would 'plug' the watermelon before each sale to make sure it was good.

                              2. re: sandylc

                                But then I see employees wrestling the bags into their spaces. Bruising must ensue...

                            3. You've got to be selective. The fruit at one extremely popular store on Manhattan's west side is consistently flavorless, often mealy and tastes like it was picked right after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The cart on my corner has far better, and cheaper fruit.

                              1. We have the most wonderful local produce market. It's called Best Yet.
                                I have returned tasteless peaches, over ripe watermelon etc. and never had any issue getting a credit.
                                I.M.H.O. (I am also in retail) that is the way to do business!!

                                1. Tons of good advice here... Buying store-bagged fruit out of season is a risky proposition. Expecting in-season flavor is unrealistic. Though, expecting some flavor, decent quality is realistic.

                                  Of course they put "Sweet and Juicy" on the sign. Did you expect "tart and Dried Out"? Bad move on their part as they are screwing with your trust. Especially if they knew better.

                                  Department Managers can get gruff when you return things. They shouldn't but sometimes its hard. Do you know how many returns they get on perfectly good produce that the customer has kept too long or stored to warm or too cold? Or how many times someone buys a bag of 8 apples and returns 4 saying that "they weren't good" knowing full well the first 4 were perfectly good for the week or 10 days they held them. Oh, and they argue that they should get money back for the 8, too. The answer there is a lot, all the time, way too frequently. So, introducing yourself will go a long, long way. A good manager (and their staff) will tell you what is good and what, well, is not as good.

                                  Many stores do return questionable produce to the wholesaler; that happens regularly. Some stores, especially in a chain store environment, have "forced distribution" which basically means "you are going to sell what we send you".

                                  At the end of the day the store should refund your money. And they should do so nicely. But if the manager thought they recognized you as a chronic returner, and I'm not saying that you are, they might have been a bit miffed. I don't know I wasn't there. I don't disagree with you but I've been in the grocery business for some time and it isn't always as simple as it sometimes seems.