Ready to Eat, Ready to Cook, Product Samples . . . and, just ain’t no cure for stupid
There’s nothing quite like the retail life (and just before the holidays at that) to really bring out the stupid in a person.
I moved from Tucson, Arizona, to Washington State in January of 2007. With that move went pretty much any hope of retirement and an easy life. Western Washington is one of the most expensive places to live in the entire country. Social Insecurity and a tiny pension from a former private-sector employer didn’t even begin to cover the budget. My late-life writing career was just getting off the ground and wasn’t even beginning to pay for itself yet.
But, what the hey—we were near the grandchildren, so it was well worth it—right?
Anyway, grampy dumb-dumb Larry went back to work, a full-load forty hours in what I liked to refer to as “The Temple of Doom” (of food retailing at any rate) a mega death-star sized food and stuff store that I came to call Giant Stuff Mart. It’s heck to work there on a good day, the managerial philosophy apparently being; “Any staff at all, is way too much staff.” Come the holidays, it’s not heck anymore—it’s hell on steroids.
I worked in the meat and seafood department. Behind a counter. During the rush periods, it became sort of like the ramparts of the Alamo on the thirteenth and final day—as in, overrun with humanity. I would have had about the same chance of coming out on top in my own little fort as the original defenders did—absolutely zero.
As I said, a lot of my customers I came to love. Some were as pleasant to see as long lost dear friends. Smiling faces that never failed to cheer me up a bit. Sometimes even inspiring.
Ninety-seven year old John was one of those. Now a widower, he used to come in with his darling wife. They were the cutest couple on earth, and I loved to see them. Often times John would stop by for a short visit while she had her hair done at the beauty salon next door—her always wanting to look her best for him. They were like a couple of teenagers—only a lot older.
One morning she simply didn’t wake up anymore, and after that he continued to come into the store—alone. I have shed a tear or two with customers. John was one of those. John was still alive and well, and still shopping at GSM on the day I retired. At nearly a hundred years old, he wasn’t getting around nearly as well as he used to. He still drove his car, but had made one small concession to time and was finally using a motorized shopping cart.
John was one of those inspiring people—and I was glad to have been his friend.
There were hundreds more that made their way to the counter that I had little feeling for, either one way or the other. They were simply faces in the crowd. I would say good morning, or afternoon, or whatever—hand them their packages, thank them, and off they would go—forgotten until the next time.
Those were just basically good, decent and nice folks.
Some were unintentionally funny . . .
It was my third day on the job.
Lady Customer: (as flat chested as a fourteen year old underweight boy. She’s looking into the full-service meat case. At the chicken. I walk over to help her. The meat manager is by my side.)
“May I help you?” I remember saying—as pleasant as I could be.
“Yes,” she responded. “What I need is a couple of really nice breasts.” The meat manager turns away, gagging slightly as he holds in his laughter—leaving me to try to keep a straight face as I fill the order.
Which somehow I did—and remained employed.
Then there is another type. The type that appears on any given day, but just love the holidays. When the poor clerks are really rushed, and really frazzled. It’s like blood in the water to a school of hungry Great White Sharks.
Customer: “Do you have Tuna steaks?”
Me: “Yes—I have those in the freezer.”
Customer: “Are those frozen?”
Me: “Yes, last time I looked. I’ll have to check again to confirm.”
Customer: “How many of the 26 to 30 count shrimp do I get in a pound?
Me: “I Could be wrong, but I’m thinking—26 to 30. Just sayin’ . . . “
Customer: “Do you have any fish without bones?”
Me: “The only fish I know of completely without bones is a Jellyfish.”
Customer: “Do you have any Jellyfish right now?”
Me: “No, sorry—we’re completely out of Jellyfish at the moment.”
Customer: “How do you cook your Jellyfish anyhow?”
Me: “Well, sometimes if I’m in a hurry, I don’t cook it at all. I’ll just have a peanut butter and Jellyfish sandwich.”
Customer: “Now you’re joking me—right?”
(Not much gets by this old gal)
Customer: (At the head of a line of five people) “Do you have King Crab legs?”
Customer: “Do you have them by the case?”
Customer: “How much does a case weigh?”
Me: “Forty pounds.”
Customer: “Could I see one?”
Me: “Sure—just give me a couple of minutes.” So I go to the freezer, uncover a forty pound case (always at the bottom of the pile) and return to the counter, half frozen myself, carrying the thing on my shoulder.
Customer: “Looks good.”
Me: “Okay—I’ll ring those up for you.”
Customer: “No—not today. I was just wondering how big the box was.”
Me: (Trying to control the urge to kill) “No problem.” And then returning it to the freezer. It absolutely thrilled those waiting in line—as you might imagine.
And then there were the rocket-scientists.
Customer: “What’s the difference between the pepper-bacon and the plain bacon?”
Me: “Well, the way I understand it is this: the pepper-bacon has pepper on it, and the plain bacon doesn’t have any pepper on it.”
Customer: “Oh.” (As though that explained anything)
You get the idea. Then there are the surly ones. Giant Stuff Mart has about a quarter of a millions items in the store at any given time. The prices change on average probably once, or maybe even twice a week.
Customer: (I’m standing behind the seafood counter at the time) “Do you have any of the advertised Mayonnaise on aisle twelve?” (Which is halfway across the store)
Me: “I’m not sure on that one. I’ll have to call a grocery clerk to find out.”
Customer: “Do you know the price?”
Me: “No—I’m sorry, I don’t. I’ll check on that for you too.”
Customer: (Sticking her nose in the air and walking away) “Oh pardon me—I thought I was talking to an employee of the store.”
I stayed in this business for well over eight years.
Like I said . . . sometimes there just ain’t no cure for stupid.
* * *
They are a couple of products sold in the grocery store that I would like you to give serious consideration to not buying. And one that is given away. Let’s take the last first—samples.
They basically some in two different flavors—those cooked, and/or prepared in the store, and those that aren’t. Pretty much, as discussed in a previous chapter, the ones that come in from outside sampling companies are going to be alright. The in-store samples that are not cooked are going to pretty much be safe as well. Those would include (just as an example) cookie and cracker samples. In this example we see something that was processed at a different location, taken out of a box or bag and put out as samples. This is pretty safe.
There was a time that I thought fresh fruit and vegetables were probably safe samples as well. That ended the day I observed an employee of the produce department of GSM slicing “fresh” strawberries for samples and placing them into the little cups. Before he did though, he was carefully cutting away mold from each and every berry. Yup—they were too old to be sold, but not too old for samples. Wasn’t just one time either. I witnessed this behavior over and over through the years, and not just on fruit either.
Profits over people.
Every. Single. Time.
Please stay away from “fresh” samples. There is just no way to tell how healthy, or how deadly they might be. And the risk of making a mistake is just too high. In so many cases of serious food poisoning, the very first symptom to appear—is death. That’s a rotten first symptom.
Don’t risk it—it’s not worth it.
Do me a favor, and yourself as well—please don’t eat samples that are cooked in the individual store departments and put out on countertops. Generally speaking, and sad to say, these are most often expired, and/or product that is long past it’s prime. Where does the marked-down product go? You remember, don’t you? The prepackaged items that were old to begin with, and then put out for sale in those little cling-wrap covered trays. Then they were marked down. Only three days to sell it. Maybe it didn’t sell. What happens to it then?
Well, it is supposed to be scanned out of the computerized inventory control system and thrown away. Does it happen? Yeah—sometimes. And lots and lots of other times, this highly dangerous product simply gets cooked into samples. Samples that are then placed on the countertop and left to rot. By law, they are supposed to be removed and replaced every fifteen minutes.
Sometimes I have seen them remain there for over four or five hours.
Do us both a favor—please don’t eat those.
Ready to eat product. We’ve talked a little about these already. It bears repeating. Whenever possible, buy these items (like potato salad, etc.) in safe, sealed and dated packages that came directly from the food processor. If it’s been handled at the store, the potential for tragedy seriously increases. This lets out most of the stuff at the deli.
I can’t pretend that very many people are going to take my advice and stop buying deli items. They are just way too convenient and they simply look too good on display. Can they be safe? You bet. Can they kill you or make you wish you were dead? Oh yeah. Can you tell the difference by looking? Nope.
So, just a word to the wise—be forewarned. And be careful. Be very careful indeed. If it looks the least bit funky—it probably is.
Another thing I’d like to see banned by law. And that is “Ready to cook” products. You know the ones. They split a chicken breast in half and put swiss-cheese and ham into it, tie it up with butcher’s twine, call it Cordon Bleu, and place it in the case for sale. The chicken breast? Probably okay. The cheese and ham? Maybe. But on the other hand, I’ve seen some of these “add-in” products that were spoiled, and/or expired for quite some time before they were used. Some examples of “iffy” add-ins would be: kale and spinach, asparagus, sun-dried tomatoes, and the like. I have actually seen pre-cut red and green peppers that were slimy with spoilage, used to make beef and chicken ka-bobs.
The beef and chicken are probably okay. Those “iffy” vegetables have the ability to send you post-haste to a large brick building with a big “ER” painted on the side.
A lot safer alternative are “ready to cook” foods made and processed at a plant somewhere else, and then frozen. When they are available, buy them still frozen, and do your own thawing.
Most of these in-store prepared fresh “ready to cook” items are marked up in price three and maybe even four times, and for that reason tend not to sell very well. Are the un-purchased ones thrown away at the end of the day? Not by a long shot. They are time-consuming and tedious for time strapped meat and seafood employees to make, so basically they are returned to the case for sale day after day after day. I have seen beef ka-bobs for sale for over a week—looking a lot more like beef “jerky” kabobs than anything else. And unwitting customers still buying them.
A food-poisoning picnic disaster just waiting to happen.
Please—do not buy this stuff. Make your own. I’ll promise you, if you do, a whole lot better tasting, and a whole lot safer meal.
And maybe a sunrise the next day.
Thanks for reading tonight. Next up–Chapter Ten: Shellfish. Until then . . . Goodnight.
Dumb Joke of the Day: