Supermarket Pet Peeves

As a food writer who tests recipes and products all the time, as well as a person who likes to eat, I do a lot of shopping. And I’m a very good shopper. In fact, I give a class on shopping.

One of my supermarket pet peeves is packaged or canned food (actually any product, though food is more important) that doesn’t contain a sell-by or expiration date. Often these products have a code, which usually bears no resemblance to any date. Thus, you have to crack the code by calling or emailing the manufacturer or distributor.

Such was the case when I called Cento, a large purveyor of Italian foods, including San Marzano tomatoes, those wonderful plum tomatoes from southern Italy that make great pasta sauce. The code on the can was RND1 C235 When I emailed Cento at purchasing@cento.com, I got a quick and polite response that informed me the code translated into August 23, 2011.

The same problem happened with another can of San Marzano tomatoes, this one from Rosa Food Products (code STR1 D 230). My email to Rosa (rosa@rosafoods.com) did not elicit a response so I called Rosa (215-467-2214), located in Philadelphia, where I live, and spoke with Jack Simpson, who told me that the Italians have their own way of doing things and that doesn’t include putting expiration dates on cans. When they are asked what the codes mean, “they get annoyed” according to Simpson.

Though Simpson said he would try to find the answer, he never called back, even after a follow-up phone call. Now I’m annoyed.

Closely associated with the lack of expiration dates is missing nutritional data. Though this occurs less often, it is still irritating. Cans of Chicken of the Sea sardines have no nutritional labeling. Instead, the wording on the can reads: For nutrition information, write to the above address. No phone number. No web site. Write, at your own expense.

Ok, you can Google the web site. And is the information you need there? Noooooo. You have to fill out a form and submit it to get the answer because Chicken of the Sea wants your name in its database.

Here are a few more of my beefs with supermarkets:

  • Food displays that clog the aisles. It’s like driving with a car double parked in front of you on every other street. A manager of the Pathmark in Chestnut Hill, my neighborhood in Philadelphia, sympathized with me but said he keeps getting stuff from corporate headquarters that he’s told to put up. The manager at the Acme in Flourtown, where I also shop, was more dismissive saying “they’re only supposed to put up three per aisle.” Only three? And who are “they,” some alien force over which you have no control?
  • Food in several places. For example, in addition to finding canned beans where they should be, you can find them in the Spanish section (dominated by Goya) or the Italian section (Progresso, Cento, Rosa) as well as at the end of the aisles if they happen to be on sale.
  • A Gazillion varieties of too much junk and not enough of the good stuff. Have you ever seen how many types of rice mixes there are? Or potato chips? Or just about any junk food?

Until consumers rise up and bug supermarkets (individual markets and corporate headquarters) and manufacturers, this will continue.

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