Taking the fresher stuff from the back of the shelf

So suppose you’re in some supermarket and they have shelves of perishable stuff in refrigerators. All those items have expiration dates, and the way they stock the shelves is with the older stuff in front and the newer stuff in back, with the expectation that people will take the stuff from the front first. But you want the freshest stuff possible, so you reach around and grab the newer stuff from the back, and leave the older stuff in front for people who aren’t as particular or savvy as yourself.

My question is: have you violated some sort of social compact and are being a minor selfish jerk by doing this? (Similar to cutting in front of the line.) Or is this completely A-OK?

Of course not! It’s on the supermarket to provide the freshest food. I only do a major shop once or twice a week, so if I want food to last me til Friday, you can bet I’m rummaging around the back of the fridge.

In the supermarket I frequent, it rarely makes any difference, because turnover in the refrigerated goods that I buy (such as milk) is so fast, everything has the same date.

But if that is not the case in your store, by all means get the freshest things you can. It’s really nothing like cutting in line, it doesn’t inconvenience anyone; and the moral test I use (what would it be like if everyone does this?) just means that no-one would buy food that is close to expiration. The store won’t suffer, the expired food will just go back to the wholesaler.

Bread is the only item that I will dig for to get the stuff in the back. A loaf of bread lasts a couple weeks in our house, I want it to still be edible when I get to the last slice. When it comes to refrigerated stuff, I usually buy the smallest container available (except milk), my wife and I tend to finish those items before that get near any use by dates.

In my case, it particularly comes up WRT OJ in Costco. OJ actually has a pretty long shelf life and long expiration dates, but OTOH I buy a lot of it (they sell them in 4-packs of 52 oz. bottles, and I usually buy 2) so I want to maximize the shelf life.

I’ve been in the hanit of grabbing the fresher stuff from the back, but have been a bit self-conscious about it, hence the question here. :slight_smile:

We had a thread about this a little bit ago, I think just about milk, though. It didn’t occur to me that scouring the milk section for the latest date would be “bad form” until someone asked a question like yours.

The thread basically confirmed that there’s plenty of people, at least where milk is concerned, that will grab what’s in front regardless of the earlier date because their family will go through a gallon in a day or two. I take 2-3 weeks to finish a gallon (living on my own) so it’s ok if I get the farthest date. It all works out in the end.

I buy bagged salads but might not get around to eating them for a few days so I definitely look for the latest best by date.

I always take one of the newer bags of lettuce from the back, and move one older bag from the front to the back, just to mess with other people like myself.

I look at the dates on the bags of salad, not just their position in front or in back.

I thought that was obvious, sorry for not mentioning it in the OP.

I look at it this way… if there are enough people doing what you describe, then the store will notice the unsold products, and hopefully change their stocking policies to keep them fresher.

My wife will never, ever take the carton/box/can/bag at the front of the display. I don’t think she ever looks at the “best before” date on anything other than milk, though.

I always grab the milk with the best date. No way I’m going to buy a gallon of milk that’s going to expire in a few days.

And yeah–I know it’s the “best by” date or “fresh until date,” but the milk always starts to turn three our four days before that date (at least in my experience).

EDIT: Same thing with the pre-made mashed potatoes in the refrigeration section.

You’re offered two identical products at the same price, and one will last longer than the other. Duh.

Change them to what? Not refilling the stock until all the old stuff is gone? Charging more for fresh items?

I think it’s potentially being a minor selfish jerk. If everyone did it, prices would go up because the store would eventually have to throw out the old merchandise, or use price discrimination to convince people to buy the old stuff.

Fortunately, it seems that people mostly only do this if they have good reason, like if it’s something they just don’t go through much of. The system can absorb some of this without affecting others, so as long as not everybody is doing it, it’s ok. But doing it without any actual reason for it is bad form, IMO.

Yeah, I’ll check the dates on some foods and not on others. If I’m buying meat to cook tonight, so long as it looks good now, I’ll take it. If I’m buying for the end of the week I’ll check the dates. We go through a lot of milk but don’t like to be buying it all the time, so I’ll often take one carton from the front, and dig for a second with a longer expected life. If I’m buying something that lasts a long time and that I go through quickly, like cheerios, I don’t even look, I just take what’s in front.

There was a Dope thread about this quite some time ago.

Someone commented, how seriously l don’t recall, that it was Jews who characteristically take advantage by selecting the freshest food items.

Since then, there have been times I’ve come home from the supermarket with a quart of milk having a sell-by date several days later than milk at the front of the display, and told Mrs. J., “Jew score!”

Some years ago I was in a supermarket shortly after the doors opened on Dec. 26. When I walked by the milk case there was a manager telling the stocker to move all the expired milk to the front of the case. I figure if they can move the bad stuff to the front, I can go to the back to get the good stuff.

I don’t believe this is true, from things I have read in the past, but I have no experience in the retail grocery business. It was my understanding that expired goods go back to the wholesaler (and who knows what they do with it). Perhaps someone with experience in this field could comment.

Stocking policies can include stocking a little less of something at a time, so that food doesn’t expire, but I’m sure most store purchasing employees are pretty well versed on keeping the right amounts so there is little danger of running out, and depending on how often the wholesalers actually come to the store and bring fresh stuff.

Milk is the only item I’ll check the date on, and only to ensure that I have at least a week until the date stamped on the container. I’ve never really had milk go bad before then, but I have had it just about turn on that date. Takes me about a week to go through a gallon.