5 On Your Side: Do grocery store meats meet weight requirements?
Posted February 4, 2015
Raleigh, N.C. — When buying meat, shoppers often pay attention to the cut, date and price, but not typically the weight.
Bill Watson, who is careful about portion sizes, said he always assumed the weight on the package was correct. He started questioning the labeling after he bought a 1-pound package of ground chuck, divided it in four sections and realized it was 15.25 ounces instead of the 16 ounces he paid for.
“You always assume, ‘OK, I’m buying a pre-packaged pound of meat. I figure it’s a pound,’” he said.
Watson said he thought it was a mistake and went back to the Kroger in Durham where he bought the meat.
"I talked with the fella at the meat department. He told me, ‘Sometimes it's 14 ounces. Sometimes it's 14 and a half ounces,’” Watson said. “He was like, ‘How much did you get?' It was not the response from the meat department I expected.”
Jerry Butler, measurement section manager with the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Service’s standards division, says most meat package weights are accurate, but mistakes do happen.
“It’s got to weigh at least what it says on that package, or more,” he said.
For example, Butler said, grocery store employees could be in a hurry and incorrectly code meat as hamburger meat.
“It happens, and that’s what we’re here for – to find it. So, we check some of everything in the store. If we find it wrong, we make them fix it,” Butler said.
State inspector Ben Foster has found discrepancies and has issued several stop sales. He carries a scale and dozens of empty meat packages with him to every inspection. He uses the packages for reference as he weighs random meat samples. Each should tip the scale slightly more than what is on the label to account for the wrapping, which consumers should never be charged for. Juices in packages are included in the weight since they were part of the meat before it aged in the case.
“That’s quite a substantial amount of profit that he can make just by billing the customer for the weight of the packaging as well as the weight of what’s in the package,” Foster said. “I’m a shopper as well, so I want those prices to be correct.”
Foster and Butler say they can only do so much. The state's 23 inspectors are responsible for 7,000 stores. They're lucky to get to each once a year.
They were happy to help with 5 On Your Side's quick checks of area meat departments. WRAL’s 5 On Your Side bought ground beef from seven stores in the Triangle – Kroger, Harris Teeter, Lowes Foods, Food Lion, Walmart, Costco and BJs – and asked the state to weigh them. Some of the 12 samples were packed in-store and some at distribution centers.
Foster weighed all the samples at the state lab and found that all weighed at or above the labeled amount.
“The customer is getting more than 3.02 (pounds),” Foster said of one of the packages. “He’s actually getting 3.042 pounds of meat.”
For those who are still concerned they’re not getting what they pay for, Butler suggests they use the scale at the register to double check weights because the state calibrates those scales.
As for Watson's ground beef that wasn't a pound, a Kroger spokesperson emailed a statement to 5 On Your Side, saying its meat is weighed before it’s shipped and that “the scale will reject any packages not weighing the minimum 1 pound noted on the package.” The spokesperson added that “food safety and accuracy are among the (company’s) top priorities.”
Kroger refunded the amount Watson paid for the ground beef.
“Unless you weighed it, you wouldn’t notice it,” Watson said. “If you’re trying to stick to a budget, then you’re trying to watch your prices and so you’re hopefully getting what you pay for.”