Is it rude to eat groceries in the store before paying for them?

Some shoppers say it’s acceptable to open a bag of produce and sample a few bites before purchasing, while others beg to differ. After all, it’s not an uncommon sight to see — even if it may earn a few raised eyebrows.

You may have seen a fellow shopper sneakily pop a few grapes into their mouth before stashing the entire bag in their cart. Or, you may have done that yourself. Whether it’s produce, packaged snacks or even prepared meals, no food item is too big or too small for several hungry shoppers.

The divisive topic of whether it’s acceptable to eat grocery foods before purchasing recently made rounds on TikTok. Internet personality Cecily Bauchmann posted a video of herself checking out her groceries, which included an empty sushi carton that Bauchmann had eaten in its entirety while shopping.

“I also opened this in-store. I’m sorry, I was so hungry,” she said before the cashier replied, “OK. You’re good.”

Underneath Bauchmann’s video were a few sympathizers, who said they see no problem with sampling food as long as it’s paid for in the end.

“I do that too haha,” wrote one user. “If you pay for it at the end [then] I see no problem.” Similarly, another user commented, “I always do that bro it doesn’t matter. [And] when I was little I thought I was gonna get jumped or something if I did that.”

Others, however, criticized Bauchmann, asserting that what she was doing was illegal and flat out wrong.

“[M]y husband works at a store that sells some food and he says it’s still stealing unless you paid first,” wrote one user while another complained, “”Isn’t that illegal? Just asking cause it seems like it’s illegal.”

Those who are fans of sampling products before purchasing argue that eating one grape, one cherry tomato, one chip or even a whole carton of sushi isn’t harmful as long as the food is all paid for in the end. And while that justification does make sense, it certainly doesn’t make the practice of sampling food at the grocery store necessarily right. Simply put, eating at the grocery store doesn’t fall under proper grocery store etiquette. 

It’s why stores like Whole Foods and Costco offer samples of certain foods so shoppers aren’t caught opening and eating products that are available for purchase. Trader Joe’s even has its own stall where employees prepare and serve samples of ready-to-eat meals to customers.

That being said, if one feels compelled to snack at their local grocery store, there are a few food items that they can reach for. “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,” wrote food writer and former Trader Joe’s employee Mackenzie Filson. “Bottled drinks (with their top securely back on) are also okay in my book.”

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However, loose fruit like bananas, apples and pears or bulk items weighed by the pound like cherries, grapes and bags of peaches are an absolute no-no. So are snack packs with dips, yogurt cups, canned sodas and juices, which are incredibly messy for cashiers to ring up once opened.

For prolific grocery store snackers, Filson said the best way to be respectful and helpful is to read out the product’s SKU (or stock keeping unit, the alphanumeric code near the barcode) at check-out so it can be entered manually. That way cashiers don’t have to touch any trash, which should be disposed of by the customer on their way out. Self-checkout is also another great option. 

At the end of the day, eating groceries before buying them isn’t illegal. So, if you’re not a fan, enjoy your purchased foods in the comfort of your own home. And if you must, just remember to do it mindfully.

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