6 Subtle Ways You're Getting Screwed at the Grocery Store

#3. Charging You for Added Water

Let's say you're on a health kick and you decide it's time to buy some fruits and vegetables. For the sake of this entry, let's say you're not a fan of fresh things and opt for the canned variety. Maybe you're stocking up your bomb/zombie apocalypse shelter -- who are we to judge? So you load your cart with canned peas, carrots and green beans, pay your cashier, head home and get started on the nastiest casserole of all time.

Throw some sardines up in that bitch. You know you want to.

What you probably didn't realize was that the 14 ounces of green beans in that can weren't actually 14 ounces of green beans, but probably nine ounces of beans and five ounces of water, and that the FDA lets manufacturers lump those numbers together into one. Which is a plus -- if you're in the market for green bean flavored water.

Oh, and if you're buying meat? Same thing. Only more disturbing.

Everything above has been dead for weeks.

The Ripoff:

When food manufacturers put their food in a can, they often put a little something else in there to protect it. Sometimes it's brine and sometimes it's syrup, but most of the time it's just plain old water. The tricky part is that when they label the can, they're only required to include the net quantity, which is the combined weight of the food and the water, rather than the drained weight of the food alone. A certain percentage of the net quantity is supposed to be the actual food, but until cans start coming in "clear," most consumers have no idea how much of their food is actually food until they get home.

But let's say you're wise to this canned trickery, and you go for fresh food instead. Good for you. But you're still not home free in the "paying for secret water" department. Especially if you eat something we here at Cracked like to call "meat."

*Contains less than 20 percent beef.*

There is a practice in food production known as plumping, which basically means injecting meat with saltwater. Food manufacturers say the water adds flavor and juiciness to the animal flesh, which may be true. But remember that unlike canned foods, which are usually sold at fixed prices, meat is sold by its weight. And when 15 percent of the chicken you paid for is actually saltwater, you are most definitely getting ripped off.

Replace the water with oil, fat and breading, and suddenly you've got a national treasure.

#2. Expiration Dates (But Not What You Think)

You just bought a whole heap of chicken and are currently siphoning off the water for a tasty drink. And because nothing goes better with chicken broth than cow juice, you grab some milk from the refrigerator. And that's when you notice that the milk is expired, according to the "use by" date on the jug. Even though the milk looks OK, smells OK, maybe even tastes OK, you throw it out. Because who wants to mess with curdled milk clods sloshing around in his stomach?

Pass that shit on to one of the kids. They'll drink anything.

The Ripoff:

Unless your senses tell you the milk has soured, it's probably just fine.

When we said "expiration dates," you probably thought we were going to warn you against grocery stores selling you expired food as fresh. And that does go on. But once we get it home, it's the opposite problem -- throwing away perfectly good food after we bought it, because an arbitrary date says it has "expired." This is a big reason why Americans throw away more than 96 billion pounds of food at different points across the supply chain -- a good part of which is perfectly fine.

Guess which part.

Clearly we're not telling you to eat spoiled meat, or spoiled anything. But in many cases the only thing that goes downhill after the date stamped on the package is taste and texture. So if it tastes fine, it is fine. Has your sour cream separated with that gross layer of liquid on top? Hey, try stirring that shit first.

What you should say when you see a "sell by" date is, "Says who?" Because unless you're buying yourself baby food, the federal government has nothing to do with that expiration date. Neither does any other regulatory body, which is why it's 100 percent legal for crafty grocers to re-label things as they please. And why the USDA actually advises us to use some freaking common sense when it comes to throwing out perfectly good grub rather than going by anything we see stamped on the label.

What most people don't know is that "use by" dates aren't so much an indication of when the food is officially toxic, just when it's starting to lose that not-so-fresh feeling. And stores know that if consumers knew exactly how long food lasted, they would simply stock up on it and not buy any more for months. Sell-by dates mean customers will fall into a pattern of buying goods, meaning the store is able to predict when customers will buy a certain product and adjust stock accordingly.

"You are cattle to us."

NOTE: This does NOT apply to medication -- expired medicine should go in the trash. But expired Fruity Pebbles? Hell, eat it and see what happens.

#1. Tricking You Into Pouring Laundry Detergent Down the Drain

Has this ever happened to you? You're about to put your granny's nighties in the washing machine, but as you measure out the laundry detergent, it spills over, drenching your hand, the machine and your granny's finest silk teddy in gel-like soap. Isn't that the worst?

With today's low textile prices, why wash clothing at all?

After a few dozen mishaps like that, you'll find yourself with nothing but a smidgen of detergent left, and since you have no plans for washing teeny-tiny baby socks, you throw the whole jug out. Congratulations, Mr. Belvedere. You just played right into the detergent manufacturers' hands.

The Ripoff:

Even though detergent companies provide a fill line for consumers to use as a guide as they measure out their soap, that line is practically invisible. For one thing, it's often on the interior of the cup itself, as if you'd be able to see it once you began pouring the liquid. And for another, the line is usually just a raised ridge that's the same color as the cup, so your depth perception has to be eagle-sharp for you to spot it.

And because we can't see that imperceptible line, we tend to overpour our detergent, because who doesn't want extra-clean clothes, right? And detergent makers know that, obviously.

But even if your favorite brand of detergent has a clearly marked measuring cup, there's an excellent chance you're still using way too much detergent to do the job. One appliance repairman even suggests that by using the detergent boxes' recommended doses, you're actually damaging your clothes and your washing machine with too much soap.

The smell and feel of freshly laundered towels is only slightly less addictive than crack.

He suggests that depending on the hardness of their water, most people could get away with using one-eighth to one-half of what the box label says to use. Otherwise, you're just gumming up the works and ruining your Girbauds.

Of course, now the big thing is 2X concentrated detergents, which cost twice as much as the old detergent but come with the claim that you need to use only half as much (it's good for the environment!). Hey, did you notice that the fill caps are the same size as before? There's a new, lower fill line waaaay down there telling you to only fill the cup a third of the way or so. Consumers tend to instead use the amount they've been using their whole lives, thus doubling your waste and the manufacturer's profit.

We're thinking that's not an accident.

Karl is a huge geek and part-time comedy writer. If you wish to view the rest of his work or find him on Facebook, click the shit out of this.

Be sure to pick up our new book and learn more industry secrets.

Check out how else stores are tricking you in 5 Ways Stores Use Science to Trick You Into Buying Crap. Or discover how the cops will always be one step ahead of you, in 6 Completely Legal Ways The Cops Can Screw You.

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