As hard as I try to be a good diner, I try even harder to be a good customer. At my preferred grocery store, I wait my turn at the fish counter — often giving way to customers who were definitely there after me — I never go in the express lane with more than twelve items, and I have no problem bagging my own groceries if help isn’t available.

However, I have come slap up against a quandary to which I see no obvious solution: dropped produce. As in, what the heck do you do when you accidentally knock or drop fruits or vegetables to the floor? Look, it happens. It might happen more often to me, because I’m a slight klutz, but I’m sure it happens to everyone. So, what do you do? If you’re like me, you walk around with a dropped Brussels sprout clutched in your hand until you can finally bin it in the parking lot. Other times when the odd lime has bounced down as I was reaching for the grapefruits above it, I’ve nudged it out of the way of foot traffic and guiltily gone about my business.

Do you put the mushroom, avocado, orange, or whatever back on top of the pyramid of produce for some other unsuspecting customer to buy? Gross.

Do you leave it where it lies, passively expecting the produce guys and gals to clean up after you? Ech, I don’t want to do that — it’s so rude and lazy.

Do you throw it out? Maybe, if there’s an obvious garbage can for that purpose. But what if there isn’t? Also, where do you draw the line? Because frankly, I don’t know how I feel about trashing bigger things like oranges, avocados, or snowy heads of cauliflower.

Anxious to get to the bottom of this customer conundrum, I called around to a few discerning grocery stores in the Bay Area who stock high quality produce and carry an extensive, if not exclusive, organic produce selection.

Produce Guy #1

Him: “Throw it away.”

Me: “Even if there aren’t any trash cans?”

Him: “There are always trash cans.”

Produce Guy #2

“Put it back. Unless it’s organic or wet — then you should give it to someone here to wash and they will put it back.”

Produce Guy #3

“Don’t put it back on the stand. Just tell one of the produce guys — or anyone in the store, actually — and they’ll take care of it for you.”

Produce Guy #4

Him: “PICK IT UP!”

Me: “Really? To leave for some other customer to come along and…”

Him: “Yeah! You should be WASHING it all anyway! All your meats, seafood, fruit, and vegetables — EVERYTHING should be washed!”

Well, okay then! If I wasn’t doing it before, I’ll certainly be washing my stuff to excess now.

Overall, I didn’t get much of a consensus — what do you think customers should do?

Grounded Groceries 17 March,2008Stephanie Lucianovic

  • wendygee

    I tend to agree with #4…after working in a kitchen and being the prep receiving and handling produce I know that it is essential to wash everything before using it for consumption…including that supposedly already washed spring mix! Unless what you drop is clearly damaged in some way I would put it back. A similar situation is finding molded food on the shelf…it is not clearly your responsibility to deal with it but do you bring it to a store worker or just leave it? Seems like a combo of ethics and proper etiquette are called into play.

  • Anonymous

    ew, you mean somebody might peel and eat the orange you dropped on the ground? This is a good reason to throw away any food that touches the floor. Or grew in dirt at one point.

    oh, wait…

  • Stephanie V.W. Lucianovic

    That wasn’t my point anonymous. My point is how to be a good customer for the people who work at the grocery store, but thanks for your sociable and extremely helpful sarcasm.

  • Anonymous

    I also agree with #4– I worked in a supermarket while I was in high school and we appreciated it when Customers picked up what they knocked over. If it squished or was damaged by the fall, we wanted it brought to our attention or at least left in a place where we could easily find it. Damaged fruits and vegetables were often given away to people who had goats, rabbits, etc. if they asked us for them.


Stephanie Lucianovic

A former picky eater, Stephanie V.W. Lucianovic is a writer, editor, and lapsed cheesemonger in the San Francisco Bay Area. A culinary school grad with an English lit degree, she has written for,, Popular Science, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Boston Globe. Additionally, she has been writing for KQED’s Bay Area Bites since its inception and is the website editor for KQED’s Emmy-award winning show “Check, Please! Bay Area.”

Stephanie was an original recapper at Television Without Pity and worked on a line of cookbooks for William-Sonoma as well as in the back kitchen of a Jacques Pépin cooking show. Her first book, SUFFERING SUCCOTASH: A Picky Eater’s Quest To Understand Why We Hate the Foods We Hate (Perigee Books, 2012) is a non-fiction narrative and a heartfelt and humorous exposé on the inner lives of picky eaters that Scientific American called “hilarious” and “the perfect popular science book for a reader that doesn’t think he or she wants to read a popular science book.”

Stephanie lives in Menlo Park with her husband, three-year-old son, assorted cats, and has been blogging at The Grub Report for over a decade.

Follow her on Twitter at @grubreport

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