Despite spending nearly an hour a week grocery shopping, most of us know surprisingly little about our local supermarket. But there's plenty to learn about buying food. We spoke with experts to get the inside scoop on everything from mart saving strategies to spotting the freshest goods. Read on to discover all the things you probably didn't know about your favorite food store.
1. There's no one "best time" to find the freshest food.
"Supermarkets used to get food deliveries once or twice a week, but now most stores are getting shipments every day," says Phil Lempert (a.k.a. the Supermarket Guru), a food trends, safety and consumer shopping expert. "The idea that certain items are going to be fresher on certain days doesn't hold true anymore." He does, however, note that no matter what day you shop, the morning is an ideal time to find the freshest produce and dairy products. Stock is replenished from the previous day first thing in the morning (besides, the milk case has only been covered in a refrigeration blanket overnight).
2. Be wary of a tiny fruit display.
If you're looking for the freshest fruit, head to a supermarket with a bountiful produce display. "The size of a display can tell you a lot about the store," says Dan Glickberg, vice president of Fairway Market. "Fairway stores have massive produce displays, and we're able to have them because we sell through our products quickly and are able to put more on display. If you see smaller setups, the store most likely doesn't go through its produce as quickly"-which means, of course, that it's been sitting on that display for longer.
3. Traditional low-cost superstores won't always offer the best deals.
Think you'll always find lower prices at your Walmart Supercenter versus the more expensive Stop & Shop? Think again. According to Teri Gault, CEO and founder of The Grocery Game and author of Shop Smart, Save More, everyday low-pricing stores like Walmart, Winn-Dixie and Food Lion won't necessarily serve up the best deals. "You won't find me shopping at those stores when I'm on the hunt for the best deals," she says. "Higher-end supermarkets like A&P or Wegmans often offer sale prices that, if you use coupons wisely, will dip lower than those at everyday low-pricing stores."
4. Wash your hands after shopping.
Supermarkets are a great place to pick up a whole lot of germs. According to Andy Kielbania, chief scientist at BioNeutral Group, Inc., the push handles on shopping carts are a prime area for bacteria. "People who are sick will almost certainly have illness-breeding germs on their hands from coughing, sneezing or wiping a runny nose," he warns. "And the moisture and body oils on the shopping cart handle create an inviting place for germs to grow." The lesson? Take advantage of in-store wipes if they're offered, and be extra-sure to wash or sanitize your hands after a trip to the store and before handling food.
5. Give that exotic fruit you're buying more than a once-over.
According to Lempert, the average produce department now has almost 400 different items. "Obviously apples, oranges and bananas sell a lot faster than, say, a cherimoya," he says. "Typically the standard fruits and veggies are going to move faster, which means they'll be replenished more quickly." So if you're picking up a more unusual item, take the time to smell it, feel it and, when in doubt, ask the produce manager questions, because there's a chance it's been sitting out for longer than usual.
6. If you want a deal, don't look at the price tag.
Instead, check out the cost-per-unit label on the shelf, which will reveal the true value of each product, advises Gault. This tactic is especially helpful when you're deciding between a few different sizes of the same item, like toilet paper or cereal. "People always assume they'll save the most if they buy the biggest size," she says. "But if you look at the cost per unit, often the middle size will offer the best value." However, if you're using coupons, chances are the smallest version will actually score you more savings, so be sure to take a few extra minutes to do the math.
7. Take a second look at those fancy displays at the end of the aisle.
Often those grand displays that appear as you round the corner to the next aisle are merely that: grand displays. "People believe that because the items are piled high and beautifully arranged, there's a deal happening," says Lempert. But there's only a sale about half of the time, so be sure to read the signs carefully before you start loading the goods into your shopping cart.
8. We're nice to friendly and loyal customers.
"My dad always used to tease my mom that she was having an affair with the butcher because she always got such good deals on meat," says Gault. "But she taught me that it really pays to make friends with him." A good relationship with the people who work at your grocery store-especially the butcher or employees who work in the bakery-can score you deals. Gault says she's had the bakery mark down pies with the next day's sell-by date on them just by asking. But keep in mind that independent or independently owned stores are the most likely to cut you deals like this.
9. In some cases you may as well bypass the fishmonger for the freezer section.
A lot of fish comes to the U.S. from overseas, so it's already been frozen or stored on ice by the time it's landed in your grocery store's fish section, says Lempert. He recommends checking the display signs for the words "previously frozen," and if you see that, you may as well purchase a version from the freezer section. "In the frozen department, that product was packed at the peak of freshness, plus you're going to save about 40 percent."
Photo: © Thinkstock
Original article appeared on WomansDay.com.
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