Food Shopping Myths

by Barbara J. Sloan


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You've heard them. We all have. It seems everyone has an opinion on the best way to buy groceries. Maybe you've heard that cereal in large boxes is always cheaper. Or that warehouse stores like Costco always sell food cheaper. All of these statements are untrue. Here's the real scoop on these and other persistent myths:

- Shop only around the perimeter of the store. That's where the best buys are.

In fact, that's where the healthiest foods usually are stocked. They can be very good buys, but there are good buys in the regular aisles too, especially in the ethnic foods area. I buy my spices in the Spanish/Mexican foods aisle, because they are much cheaper but are equal in quality to more familiar brands.

You can also find dried beans, canned beans, vegetables, fruits and other inexpensive, easy-to-prepare foods on the inside aisles. Just skip the packaged processed foods like ready-to-cook noodle and rice mixes that are often full of sodium. A good rule of thumb is that the more processed the food, the more expensive and less healthful it is.

- Groceries on the quick sale shelves are always a better buy.

That depends. Can you use them today? Can you freeze them or otherwise store them until you need them? Is the quality still good enough? If there are only surface blemishes, they may be well the cost. But if you have to throw out rotten food or eat food close to rotting, is it worth it?

Whatever you decide, don't buy food with visible mold. If you get it home and discover mold you couldn't see, call the store immediately. A good store always stands behind its products and will refund your money or replace the product if you bring in the receipt.

- Warehouse stores have the best buys in food.

Not only is this not true, but also some don't have the best buys in other products either. As always, you need to shop around. Consider price per portion, as well as whether you can use all of the food in the larger size container before it goes bad.

Some warehouse stores, including Costco, do not accept coupons. Others, like BJ's, do. But local groceries may double the coupon value, thus yielding better buys in smaller, more usable quantities.

Is it worth the yearly membership fee to save a little on each visit? Only you can decide that. I save several dollars a month just on raisins, which is a Sloan household favorite. But a one-member household may not save enough to make the trip and the membership fee worthwhile.

- Large size packages always cost less per serving than smaller ones.

Again, not true. Especially if smaller containers are on sale and the large one isn't, the smaller one may be the better buy. Always consider the price per portion. If you are using a coupon, remember to deduct it from the price first. When using coupons, smaller sizes may be less expensive. Either way, it's not unusual to see a large box of cereal on sale for less money than the small box.

- Eggs don't spoil for at least two hours after they are removed from the refrigerator.

Actually, leaving eggs (and dairy products) out in a warm room or your car trunk shortens their shelf life. They may not spoil, but they won't be as healthy. When you buy them, take them home and store them in the coldest part of the refrigerator, not the door, right away. Leave them in the carton for maximum safety. Don't eat eggs that have sat out for two hours or longer.

- Dairy products are no good by the date on the container and must be discarded.

My son refuses to drink the milk if it has reached the date on the container. However, the truth is that most dairy products are labeled with a "sell by" date, not a "use by" date. Milk is usually fresh for up to 7 days after this date if it is in an unopened container and about two days after that date if recently opened.

There are many more food shopping myths. We've just scratched the surface. Remember that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably isn't.

For the truth about food-related statements, go to reliable sources, such as this FDA website at http://www.fda.gov. You can also order many free and low-cost pamphlets from the Federal Citizen Information Center at publications.usa.gov. .


Barbara Sloan is a freelance writer who lives and shops in South Central Connecticut. She frequently writes shopping and health-related articles.

Take the Next Step

  • Start a Price Book to track how much things are in all the stores you visit.
  • Visit the FDA sites suggested above, including http://www.fda.gov to learn more about food-related questions.
  • One tip that isn't a myth is that you'll reduce your bill by using coupons. Get them from SmartSource click here and MySavings click here.
  • Get great ideas for eating and shopping healthy in the Healthy Foods email newsletter!

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