Laws re: returning groceries?

Suppose I do a curbside grocery pickup. I get home, realize they’ve given me the wrong can of beans. I go back to the store and return it for a refund. Do they put the can of beans back on the shelf? I’m guessing yes, since the beans inside should be relatively safe from tampering or mishandling.

Suppose instead that I realize they gave me the wrong ground beef. I go back to the store and return the beef for a refund. Do they put the beef back in the case? I’m guessing not, since the beef may not have been kept refrigerated at my home, or I may have tampered with it.

Am I guessing correctly at typical grocery store policies? Are there laws in any/all states that restrict what returned products a grocer may put back on the shelf for sale?

I don’t know about laws, but there are certainly HACCP guidelines in place. In the store I work at, we wouldn’t restock anything perishable for the reason you state above, nor would we restock produce, hot food from the deli or anything custom-packaged from the deli (lunch meats, potato salad, etc.), most of our bulk-bin products, or any other food product that isn’t wrapped and that the customer would have made bare hand contact with.

Would it be offered to employees?

No - any perishable with a questionable chain of custody goes in the trash, or (in certain cases) to the vendor/warehouse for a full or partial refund.

Products with a known chain of custody but which we can’t restock (like products with torn/missing/misprinted UPCs, cereal boxes with razor cuts where the inner bag is still sealed, products which have been recalled for a non-food-safety reason like the net weight is misprinted, etc.) get donated to the food bank.

I just had this conversation yesterday at work.

I’m working for a non-profit that buys and has non-perishable groceries delivered by Instacart to those in need. My co-worker said her brother works for a delivery service and if the delivery can’t be made, he sometimes gets to keep them.

Makes sense since even in non-pandemic times, there’s no guarantee of the safety and quality of even canned goods.

At the beginning of the lockdown last year, the supermarkets in my area had a no return policy on everything. This was common and is being rescinded at some stores:…69i57.13729j0j4&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8

Returned perishables are always discarded. Though I’ve read stores of store employees finding meat on the store shelves and returning them to the cooler. I’m suspicious about frozen foods that have obviously defrosted and been refrozen, especially ice cream.I always toss them out.

Edit: I remember last year the guideline (because we were warned about second hand touch transmission) was don’t put back anything that you’ve touched instore or touch anything you’re not planning to buy. I’d see shoppers look over the produce carefully before making their one selection. If I saw someone touch and put something back, I’d either skip it altogether or pick from a different section. Yes, I know that doesn’t mean someone else didn’t touch it before. SIGH

We call that “plunder” and it’s on a case-by-case basis as to whether it’s safe to put it back in the cooler or not. Anything frozen that’s been defrosted goes in the trash no matter what - otherwise it’s a matter of what its temperature is and how long it’s been out of refrigeration.

I think a lot of places would probably offer a refund if you were unhappy with perishable food but possibly wouldn’t actually want it back since it’d just be thrown right into the trash.

When I worked at Safeway non-perishable returns were sent back to the warehouse for credit. Perishable returns were documented and submitted to the warehouse for credit, about half of which was generally honored. The other half was just added to the shrink report that disappeared up the corporate ladder.

On the other hand, items that were damaged in-store, like a can got dropped on the floor and dented, or if we just noticed a damaged item on the shelf, we’d pull it, document it, then write like 25¢ on it with a Sharpie and stick it on the “discount” rack next to the bathroom. A few unscrupulous employees were known to occasionally dent a few cans on purpose, write 25¢ on it, then buy it themselves.

For the customer side, Safeway’s policy, at least at the time I was there, was to accept all returns, no questions asked, no receipt required. We didn’t advertise that fact of course, but that was what we were told to do. Which honestly seemed overly generous, especially coming from our notoriously cheap corporate masters. Despite that, I don’t remember anyone ever trying to scam the system; no one ever attempted to return like 100 packages of batteries or dozens of boxes of diapers or anything like that which would trigger suspicion. But even if they had, the rule was take their information down and give them the money. We didn’t really have any mechanism for flagging transactions, but I assumed corporate security audited that sort of thing regularly and would deal with it without our help.

I’d have to look it up, but IIRC, the Federal Food Code states that you can’t resell anything that’s been returned unless it’s in a tamper evident package. So, a can of beans can go back on the shelf, a sandwich can’t.
Any more store, we’ll generally refund you for anything you bring back if there’s a problem, but unless it’s something like a can of beans, with rare exception, it’s going in the garbage.

My copy of the 2013 food code seems to confirm this:

3-306.14 Returned Food and Re-Service of Food.
Except as specified in ¶ (B) of this section, after being served or sold and in the possession of a CONSUMER, FOOD that is unused or returned by the CONSUMER may not be offered as FOOD for human consumption.

Except as specified under ¶ 3-801.11(G), a container of FOOD that is not TIME/TEMPERATURE CONTROL FOR SAFETY FOOD may be RE-SERVED from one CONSUMER to another if:
The FOOD is dispensed so that it is protected from contamination and the container is closed between uses, such as a narrow-neck bottle containing catsup, steak sauce, or wine; or
The FOOD, such as crackers, salt, or pepper, is in an unopened original PACKAGE and is maintained in sound condition.

That’s been my experience with curbside pickup and delivery in the last year and a half.

This is also the policy at the store where I work. Employees do NOT get free food, we have to pay for it just like everyone else.

I’ve heard that from other delivery workers, too, but I don’t know the details.

I’m not saying it never happens but that is contrary to policy. First offense would entail disciplinary actions. Repeated offenses could result in losing the job. The company doesn’t want to get sued because someone got sick from eating bad food.

Whomever came up with the rule seems to have been clueless regarding how many people touch food before it reaches the shelves at the grocery store.

I learned from Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness that any meat that is returned, expired, or even found on a different shelf in the store because someone changed their mind, is donated to the local big cat shelter, where the underpaid employees pick out the “best” rejects for themselves before feeding the rest to the tigers.

If meat is found in a different place in the refrigerated meat department, would it be thrown out? Let’s say I’ve got a package of ground beef in my hands and I see the ground turkey. I put the ground beef right there and then grab a package of ground turkey instead

Why? I don’t understand people who do this. The ground beef and ground turkey are probably only a few shelves away so why would you not use the most minuscule amount of effort and put it back where you found it? Is it laziness? Selfisnhness?

dalej42 was responding to Didi44’s post that said “I remember last year the guideline (because we were warned about second hand touch transmission) was don’t put back anything that you’ve touched…”
I think this is more of a Covid issue, not a long standing store policy.

I’ve voting laziness. Thoughtlessness and stupidity are also contenders. And I think the occasional nasty person does stuff like that as a “joke”. (Yes, we find pork sausage in the kosher food aisle, why do you ask?)

We see that sort of thing all the time at the store where I work. And not just in the meat department.

But back to dalej42’s question - if we found a package of, say, ground turkey sitting in the ground beef cooler we’d probably just put it back with the rest of the turkey. If we found the ground turkey sitting in, say, the shampoo aisle we’d have to throw it out.

The worst was when I had to get a ladder to look on the top shelf of the shampoo aisle one time. There was a deli package, that, according to the label, was corned beef sliced to order about 3 weeks prior. By look and smell it was an undead alien life form. Yep, that one went in the trash.