Chapter Seven: Scales and other Utensils . . .

Cover Design by Laura Shinn.
Cover Design by Laura Shinn.

Scales (1)



 Scales and other Tools


The little old lady stood facing me, just the other side of the seafood counter . . . and she wasn’t very happy. I could tell she was getting up there—not just from the two old-fashioned hearing aids protruding from her ears, but also the fact that she insisted on calling me “young man.” Seems her vision might have been beginning to fade a bit as well, as I was right around sixty-two of so years old at the time. Often, when a customer would refer to me that way, I would reply that the eyeglass department was right around the corner.

Anyway, she wanted a fish. One of the whole-body Sockeye Salmon from the ice-table. And she wanted it filleted.

She had shown up at the counter probably an hour before. It was a good time. The middle of the week, a little past seven in the evening, I had zero other customers, and nothing much to do right at the moment. Getting a fish ready for her was going to be a pleasure, and a nice way to advance the movements of the big and little hands on the clock.

The lady—Beverly, as I would find out later—selected a fish, I weighted it up and told her to come back in four or five minutes, plenty of time for me to fillet her fish. Truth of the matter was that I can fillet a nice looking fish in just under two minutes, but like I said, it was a slow night, and I always liked to allow myself a little extra time to do an extra nice job.

She gives me a funny look, but goes her way–wordlessly.

So I finish the fish, wrap it up, and place it on the counter-top for her to pick up. She doesn’t come back. Not in four or five minutes, not in thirty minutes either. It’s not uncommon. Many times a customer will completely forget their order, or simply change their mind and never return. I took the fish off the counter and placed it in the walk-in cooler. She might come back later, I reasoned—or even the next day.

She did come back. About an hour later—and I want to tell you, her shopping cart was loaded. She wheeled up to the counter and asked if her fish was ready yet. “Yup,” I replied. “Just give me a second.”

Returning with her salmon a few seconds later, I handed it to her. She looked it over and very graciously thanked me. However, she also couldn’t resist saying, “Just one thing I can’t understand, young man. Why on earth would it take you forty-five minutes, just to fillet a fish?”

Well, after I carefully explained our miscommunication, we both had a good laugh over it. I apologized for not speaking clearly, and her for not having her hearings aids turned up very high. She said it was no problem—she had been meaning to pick up a few extra things anyway. We became friends, and Beverly returned many times to my counter in the years to come. We almost never failed to joke about that night so long ago. It was a bond between us.

It’s that way with a lot of customers. Frankly, some you just don’t care much for very much—for whatever particular reason. The vast majority are simply faces that come and go. Common, ordinary, and everyday exchanges and interchanges between employee and customer. Quickly forgotten.

And then there are a few like Beverly. Once met, and never forgotten. Sometimes on a first name basis. Sometimes they tell you about their families—or their problems. Sometimes you do the same. I want to tell you—those customers are pure, solid gold.

I’d like to talk about retail weight-scales in this chapter, along with a few of the other tools commonly used in dispensing food products to the end user—that is, the customer. And how a few of them have the potential to make you really, really sick.

It goes back to the priorities of Giant Stuff Mart, which are, if you remember—profits. Each and every single time. I can absolutely assure you, that GSM, or for that matter, any large corporate owned supermarket chain, will never have enough employees to do an adequate job of cleaning and sanitizing food product dispensing tools.

They just simply expect too much from overtaxed and overextended employees for that to happen. Spoons, forks, knives, dishes, mixing bowls, slicing and tenderizing machines, and weight scales are just some of the equipment that probably doesn’t have a lot of cleaning attention lavished on it at any given moment.

Most of the time you simply can’t see the equipment and make a sound judgement as to its condition. Sometimes you have to go on faith. But there is one item you can see—and that’s the weight scales. Generally, they sit right on top of the counter, so the customer can observe that they are getting an honest weigh-up.


Typical retail digital weight-scales.
Typical retail digital weight-scales.


If it’s a busy store, and the counter person is busy, as they almost always are, these scales can become food poisoning disaster areas just waiting to happen. Sometimes raw product gets placed directly on the scales. Then maybe some shellfish. And then some cooked product. Despite best efforts, there is going to be some cross-contamination going on. Trust me when I tell you—you don’t want that in your life. Easy fix; demand that a simple piece of paper be placed on the scale top before anything is weighted on it. And probably not a simple piece of deli tissue either. Ask for a good sized piece of butcher paper—the same kind they will use to wrap your final order.

As to the other utensils? Well, each and every department that sells product over the counter is going to have what they call three-compartment sinks. They work like this: The compartment on the left is for soapy water. The middle is for rinse water, and the one on the right for water and sanitizer mix. If the counter person is going to use a knife to cut your product (especially cooked product) or a spoon to scoop your product (especially cooked product) simply ask then to swish the utensil in the sanitizer solution in the right sink and rinse it off with clean cold water from the tap. This will atone for a lot of sins in the less than completely clean areas, and will go a good long way toward ensuring against cross-contamination.

Remember—be a pain in the butt when it comes to asking for food safety standards to be enforced. You might just save yourself a pain in the tummy—or something a whole lot worse.

And please don’t rely on state mandated “inspections” to save you. I was on duty many times behind the meat and seafood counter when the state inspectors from weight and measures came in. They are the folks that see that the weight-scales are calibrated properly and indicating the proper weights. After all, we don’t want anyone to get overcharged—right?

The trouble was though, that the inspectors would often set their counter-weights on top of the scales for testing, never seeming to notice or care that the entire surface of the scales were often covered with fish blood and gore. And to the best of my knowledge, they never said a single word about it either, to a worker behind the counter, or to a member of management.

Nope—that wasn’t their job—or they simply didn’t care. The bacteriological condition of the surface of the scales was the job of the health department. And the sad and simple truth of the matter was that the health department didn’t do a very good job either.

But more on that in an upcoming chapter.


Thanks for reading. Back tomorrow with another chapter in DEATH AT THE SUPERMARKET.  Chapter Eight: Cooked and Raw Product . . . and how the difference can put you in the ground. Until then . . . Goodnight.

Dumb Joke of the Day:

I’m looking for employment cleaning mirrors. Not exactly sure why, but I think it’s a job I could see myself doing . . .