Imagine, for a moment, a common experience for grocery workers everywhere: A customer approaches check-out counter and unloads their items for scanning. But then suddenly an intruder comes into view: a floppy banana peel, an opened drink container, or a lone apple core. Yes, customers eating food in the grocery store is nothing new, but a recent viral TikTok showing a hungry mom-fluencer snacking on grocery items before checking out has elicited all kinds of feelings from people about the legality and morality of it all. We’ve likely all done it, but how bad is it really to eat food before you pay for it at the grocery store?
The short and long answer? It depends on the food you’re snacking on, and also where you’re snacking. While eating groceries before buying them is technically legal, the TikTok has has brought up many emotions about whether this behavior should be allowed. Commenters on the original video are clearly divided, and reactions range from thinking they’d go to jail as a kid for snacking in the store, to gross interactions with trash, and my favorite: “you set up a whole tripod for this?”
We all gotta eat, but that doesn’t mean being rude or doing some other avoidable behavior at the grocery store. As a former Trader Joe’s employee, I’m actually pretty neutral on the eating in the grocery store debate. But I do think some items are just downright disrespectful to eat in the store and then expect your cashier to take your trash and dispose of it.
Top of my no-snack list? Loose fruit like bananas, apples, and pears, and bulk items weighed by the pound like cherries, grapes, and bags of peaches. These items are not only nasty to touch, but also trickier to ring up once they’ve been snacked on. The same is true of anything on the wetter end of the snack spectrum: snack packs with dips, yogurt cups, and drinks that don’t have a (like canned sodas or juices). A good rule of thumb: If you wouldn’t want it dripping on you, don’t crack it open in the store before buying it.
Dry, individually priced items like chips, trail mix, and berries in containers are, to me, totally fine for snacking, provided that you give the cashier a heads up, so they don’t spill your Ghost Pepper potato chips or blueberries all over the floor. Bottled drinks (with their top securely back on) are also okay in my book.
If you snacked and want to make your cashier really love you, each grocery item has its own SKU (a.k.a. stock keeping unit, the alphanumeric code near the barcode). You can just read out the product’s SKU at check-out so it can be entered manually, and then dispose of the trash yourself on the way out.
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If you’re a prolific grocery snacker, self check-out might just be your new best friend. Personally, I’ve been known to snack on Lunchable when hanger strikes me at Target, but I make sure to use self-checkout so no one but me has to deal with my trash.
However, there is one all-time worst snacking behavior. Never do this. It’s when a customer opens a product, tries it, and then says they don’t like it and doesn’t buy it. Don’t be that guy. Especially at stores where sampling is encouraged, like Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, and Costco, you can ask an employee before opening a product. Then they can safely dole out samples with gloves on, in individual cups, so others can try it as well.
Contributing Assistant Digital Food Producer
Mackenzie Filson is a food writer and contributing digital food producer at Delish. Her favorite ice cream flavor is chocolate-pine and if wine was an astrological sign she’d be a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. She’s never met a bag of Spicy Sweet Chili Doritos she didn’t eat in one sitting.