The Most Disturbing Behind-the-Scenes Secrets of Your Favorite Grocery Stores, Revealed

If you need to purchase food or grab a small household item, your first stop is most likely the grocery store. It’s a place you’ve grown to rely on for all your breakfast, lunch, and dinner needs. The only thing is, many grocery stores are hiding some pretty gross secrets. You might not want to put all your trust into your local supermarket.

Here are the most disturbing behind the scenes secrets of your favorite grocery stores.

Year-old apples

shopping woman buying fruit
Yikes. | LuckyBusiness/iStock/Getty Images

Yes, you read that correctly. You might not want to know this, but the apples in your grocery store are probably old. And we’re not talking just a few weeks old, but months. Lauren Sucher, a spokeswoman for the Food and Drug Administration, told most grocery store apples are not new.

Apples are preserved with a combination of chemicals and temperature-control measures. This is what the USDA website had to say about the process:

To slow the proverbial sands of time, some fruit distributors treat their apple bins with a gaseous compound, 1-methylcyclopropene. It extends the fruits’ post-storage quality by blocking ethylene, a colorless gas that naturally regulates ripening and aging.

Next: Do you want bacteria with that?

Bacteria-covered produce

whole foods produce
That produce is probably filthy. | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Even if your local grocery store sprays some water on the produce, that doesn’t mean it’s clean. The Today show asked Connie Morbach, a microbiologist with Sanit-Air, to examine a few grocery stores. What she found will disgust you.

Some of the irrigation spigots were covered in black dirt. The water was also dirty. Water samples were taken and sent them to Morbach’s lab. She found the irrigation misters were teeming with bacteria. They also found broccoli sitting in bacteria-filled water.

Next: We hope you’re not eating when you read this next one.

Fecal matter in shopping carts

lady shopping with a full filled cart in a supermarket
Disinfect before you shop. | Freer Law/iStock/Getty Images

You might want to bring disinfecting wipes the next time you use a shopping cart. This is because there’s a 72% chance your cart might have fecal matter in it, according to a study conducted by University of Arizona researchers Charles Gerba and Sheri Maxwell. In addition, there’s a 51% chance the cart could be contaminated with E. coli.

The reason this happens is because so many children sit inside these carts. Children have a habit of constantly touching themselves (their nose, mouth, and unmentionable areas) and then touching objects. This is how fecal matter can be transported to your cart.

Next: Looks can be deceiving.

Old meat

meat counter
There are all sorts of chemicals in there. | andresrimaging/iStock/Getty Images

Don’t be fooled by that healthy looking, red meat. Chances are, it’s older than you think. Peter DeLucia, Westchester’s assistant commissioner of health for the Bureau of Public Health Protection, told Dr. Oz that the butcher section worries him the most. “What you see is not necessarily what you’re going to get,” said DeLucia. Dr. Oz agreed, saying “the beef is older than it looks.”

DeLuica said there is a legal practice that makes meat last longer called atmospheric packaging. “What they do with that is they inject carbon monoxide gas into the package. And what that does is it increases the shelf life of the meat by making it look nice and red. It makes it appealing to your eye. But it doesn’t affect [the meat’s] freshness,” said DeLucia.

DeLucia says your best bet is to go by the meat’s expiration date, not it’s color. He recommends either cooking or freezing the meat three days before it expires.

Next: You might want to inspect your trail mix.

Contaminated food is re-sold

carton of black raspberry ice cream with chocolate chunks and spoon on wooden tabletop
Defective food can be sold back to you. | MarieKazPhoto/iStock/Getty Images

Believe it or not, it’s lawful for contaminated or defective food to be repackaged and then sold back to you. It’s a process called reconditioning. Jay Cole, a former federal inspector, told NBC that “any food can be reconditioned.”

Reconditioned food could be nothing to be alarmed about or it could be quite unsavory. Said NBC News:

It may be something benign, such as misshapen pieces of pasta that are re-ground into semolina, or something unexpected, like a batch of mislabeled blueberry ice cream mixed in with chocolate to avoid waste. It might be something unappetizing, such as insect parts sifted out of cocoa beans or live bugs irradiated — and left behind — in dried fruits like dates and figs.

Next: Horse burgers, anyone?

Mislabeled meat

It might not be what you think. | iStock/Getty Images

There have been cases of horse meat being sold as beef and fish being intentionally mislabeled and sold as the species that gets the most sales. Researchers at Chapman University’s Food Science Program in California found 20% of ground meat sold in the United States contains meat that is different from what is on the label. Horse meat, which is illegal to sell in the United States, was found in two of the 48 samples of ground meat that were tested, reports Daily Mail.

Next: You might not want to save this date.

Changed “use-by” dates

egg with expiration date
The use by date can be changed. | KenTannenbaum/iStock/Getty Images

Pay attention to the dates on food at the supermarket. You might think the “use-by” date is permanent, but it’s not. Although manufacturers must stick to one date, grocery stores are allowed to change the date until an item is sold.

On his website, Dr. Oz says it’s not uncommon for stores to have products on the shelves that are months old. He says grocery stores can bend the rules when it comes to the use-by date:

Many foods come with a use-by date established by the manufacturer, which cannot be changed. But you may also notice a use-by date added on by the retailer on foods that they process and package. And guess what? Retailers are allowed to change that date as many times as they’d like until the product sells!

Next: You have no idea where your meat has been.

Raw meat in shopping carts

raw meat shopping cart
A whole new level of gross. | Loretta Seto via Facebook

Your shopping cart might be grimier than you realize. One shopper caught vendors at 99 Ranch Market in San Jose, California, pushing a shopping cart full of raw meat. The disgusting part is there was no barrier between the cart and the meat. No plastic wrap, nothing. Try not to think about this the next time you’re eating dinner. However, it’s hard not wonder how many other stores might be doing this.

Next: The deli counter has some secrets of its own.

Hidden deli counter secrets

Grocery store prepared food
That food might be about to go bad. | Niloo138/iStock/Getty Images

If you’re in a rush and don’t have time to cook, you might head over to the deli counter and grab a prepared meal. When you’re hungry and short on time, those rotisserie chickens and fruit salads might be appealing. However, you might want to pass on that convenient meal. Deli counter foods are often made from foods that have already expired or are close to going bad, according to Brian Lee, a former grocery store worker. Lee had this to say in a HuffPost article:

I will tell you that you will probably never see a banana that’s turning brown on the racks in the produce department. If some produce isn’t sell-able, it usually gets shopped around the store. A department that handles any type of prepared foods will use these items to make items for hot bars, salad bars, soups, etc. The same goes for meat and seafood that is past its “sell-by” date but still within its “best-by” date.

Next: This is how you could pick up germs on your way out the door.

Dirty conveyor belts

Don’t forget about the register. | Grigorenko/iStock/Getty Images Plus

You might be careful when it comes to shielding yourself from a dirty shopping cart, but you should also use caution when it comes to the conveyor belt. This is another place that could harbor germs.

Registered Dietician Toby Amidor mentioned in Food Network’s Healthy Eats column that grocery store conveyor belts should be sanitized at least every four hours. However, she says she has rarely seen this take place. Amidor offers this advice: “Never place unwrapped food directly on the conveyor belt. Always use plastics bags provided for fresh produce.”

Next: Health inspections don’t mean all that much at the grocery store.

Lax health inspections

Woman with Shopping List
Health inspections aren’t as strict. | Cathy Yeulet/iStock/Getty Images

This supermarket secret is probably one of the most troubling. You might hear about restaurants getting shut down all the time, but that’s not usually the case when it comes to grocery stores.

Unfortunately, health inspectors tend to go easy on grocery stores. Grocery stores undergo a health inspection, but they’re not required to announce whether they failed. An investigation conducted by NBC found grocery stores with critical health violations often still had the same violations during a follow-up investigation. The 2006 study also found that major chains like Safeway, Albertsons, and Publix had the highest number of critical violations during inspections.

Next: This is why you should never shop hungry.

Bacteria-laden samples

Costco samples
One of people’s favorite parts about a visit to Costco could make them sick. | Tim Boyle/Getty Images

Stay away from store samples. If you’re hungry, you’re better off finding a snack elsewhere. The reason is because samples could become contaminated with bacteria from other customers. Several people handle store food samples, so it’s possible the food could make you sick.

One extreme case was the 2010 E. coli outbreak that was connected to cheese samples at Costco. A total of 38 people were infected across five states, and 15 people were hospitalized.

Next: Run away from this.

“Manager specials”

Latin brunette picking up some food at the grocery store
Don’t be lured in by sale signs. | Antonio_Diaz/iStock/Getty Images

There’s nothing special about the manager specials. Your best bet is to walk right on by. In his column, Dr. Oz warns the reason these items are advertised is because food featured on the manager special are usually about to expire. This is why they’re discounted. So, don’t be lured by the low prices. You might end up purchasing an item you’ll have to throw out just a few days later.

Next: Not an oldie but goody.

Not-so-fresh food is placed in front

Young man in supermarket choosing milk
The older milk will be placed in front. | XiXinXing/iStock/Getty Images

Don’t be fooled by convenience. Your first instinct might be to reach for the item that’s closest to you. However, items that are closer to their expiration date are often pushed up front, while the fresher items are pushed further back on a shelf. It pays to take the time to reach further back and grab the fresher item.

One Reddit user, who goes by the name The_Punniest, used to work at a supermarket and had this to say:

Many items get intentionally stocked in such a way that the first item on the shelf (the one closest to the consumer) will expire soon. The items behind it will expire later. Milk being the prime example. If you take an item further back on the shelf, you are generally more likely to pick one with increased freshness and it won’t go bad as fast.

Next: Keep your hands to yourself.

Germy customers

People touch everything. | Noel Hendrickson/Photodisc/Getty Images

You and your fellow customers can contribute to the germs that are spread around supermarkets. One way this happens is when customers forego the tongs and pick up items like bagels with their bare hands. If a sick customer sneezes on his or her hand and then picks up a bagel, only to put it back, you could get sick. So, you might want to skip food items that aren’t individually wrapped.

Now that we’ve thoroughly grossed you out, we hope you’ve learned a thing or two about how to reduce your chances of getting sick from your next grocery store trip. Happy shopping!

Follow Sheiresa on Twitter @SheiresaNgo.

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