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Tips and Tricks to Grocery Shopping In Stores For Perishable Items

Updated on March 25, 2013

Choosing the right groceries

Most of us go grocery shopping on a regular basis. If not us personally, someone in our family takes up the job. Luckily, a lot of us are able to determine just by looking at an item whether or not it is a good quality item. For example, we are typically able to detect a spoiled piece of fruit or a loaf of bread that is going bad. However, there are many things about grocery shopping for such items that we are unaware of.

This article focuses mainly on perishable grocery items such as milk and bread products. It can, however, pertain to many other grocery items as well. This article is short in length but contains some useful information that you can use the next time you go shopping.

Compare Expiration Dates

When you purchase items such as milk, bread, cereals, juices etc, most of them contain an expiration date. You can compare items that are near each other and notice that some will have expiration dates a few days or even longer apart. Choose the items with the latest expiration dates.

If a perishable item (aside from fruit or other item that is unable to have an expiration date plced on it) does not have an expiration date, it is best to not take a chance with it.

Poll: Do you Check Expiration Dates?

Do you check the expiration dates on items you shop for?

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Shop Depending on the Season

Certain perishable foods can be obtained easily all year round and are more or less always fresh. These include milk and other dairy products, bread, meat and eggs among some others. On the other hand, many fruits and vegetables are only readily available fresh during certain times of the year.

Even if an item may be available, it does not mean that the item is in season. Items that are not in season in your particular area will not be as good of quality as if they were in season, and they will usually be more expensive when not in season. If you shop for produce depending on the season, your food will taste better and you will probably save some money.

Here is a Hubpage that lists fruits and vegetables available by the season:

Large vs. Small Grocery Stores

Some people prefer to shop at large chain grocery stores and some prefer to shop at small markets. Likewise, some individuals don't have a choice and have to shop at stores that are nearest to them. There are differences between them, although not all apply to every store.

With small markets you may want to check for the freshness of items. Often, the customers are not as frequent as large stores and some items may sit around for a while. Some small stores, as sad as it is, will also change the expiration dates of their products by a day or even more if it hasn't sold. This is not common practice but you should stay cautious and just try to look for signs of this occurring. For instance, it may occur with very rarely purchased items and not as often with commonly purchased items such as whole wheat bread or hotdog buns. Again, this is uncommon but has happened.

With large grocery chains, items may not be stocked as well as they should (see next section for more info). For example, when new items are placed on the shelves, older items should be moved forward while the new ones are placed in the back. Some grocery store empleyees fail to do this so the items in the back become older and older. As well, some items that are not commonly purchased may sit on the shelves unnoticed un til they are past expiration. Not all stores check their shelves for expired inventory.

Both large and small stores have their upsides and downsides. you just have to be aware of what they may be and be careful when you shop.

How Items are Stocked on Shelves

Typically, when grocery stores restock their shelves, older perishable items are pulled towards the front of the shelf while newer items are placed behind the older ones. If there are several levels of shelves with the same item (such as with bread shelves or milk shelves) the older items are brought up from the bottom shelves to be easily accesible and replaced with the newer items.

Most people grab their items from the shelves in the same way - they take the easiest item to get to. This means arms-length and eye level for the most part. People will not typically bend down or reach behind for the exact same item that they can simply grab.

This means, the fresher items are usually the ones that are more difficult to reach. If you do what most people don't do and select items that are more difficult to reach, you will have fresher items. However, as stated above, some stores do not do this properly and the fresher items are actually in the front. Just check for this the next time you go shopping for a perishable item.

One thing to keep in mind when taking items near the front of the shelf is that it may have been put back after having been carted around the store by someone else or placed in an area somewhere else in the store for a long period of time. This is important when shopping for refrigerated or frozen items. A frozen item may have become unthawed and placed back in the freezer or a refrigerated item may have sat somewhere warm for a long period of time. Most stores will throw these items away if an employee finds it, but sometimes customers will put back items themselves and the store is unaware of it. When these items are placed back, they are typically placed near the front of the shelf.

Further Reading

Some individuals can easily tell when food is spoiled or starting to go bad and some individuals cannot. For the most part, smell is a good indication of freshness. If the smell turns you off, then it is likely going bad. As well, looks can be a good indication of freshness and some people can tell just by looking at an item that it doesn't appear fresh. Here are some links which may be helpful in determining the quality or freshness of a perishable item.

Ground Beef Color and Safe Handling:

How can I Tell if Fish is Spoiled:

How to Know if Pork Has Gone Bad:

Information About Lamb Meat:


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    • Valene profile image

      Valene 4 years ago from Missouri

      Great tips and tricks for better grocery shopping. I love outsmarting the system whenever possible!

    • His princesz profile image

      His princesz 5 years ago

      Wow very useful, thanks! As a new wife I need these badly. ;)

    • Rhonda D Johnson profile image

      Rhonda D Johnson 5 years ago from Somewhere over the rainbow

      I shop for one, so purchasing perishable goods is often a hassle. Especially since I live in northeast Texas where even things like potatoes and onions have to go in the refrigerator or they will get molded. Bananas turn black after a few days in the fridge so I seldom buy them.

      This is useful information. Thanks.