Grocery stores around the state are gearing up for the holiday season by stocking up on hams and turkeys, which are often a staple at family gatherings. Inspectors from the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services are at stores making sure turkeys, hams and other meat products sold at a higher quantity this time of year are labeled at the correct weight.
"The weight of a turkey or ham determines not only the cost of the product, but also cooking time and how many servings," said Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler. "We want to make sure that what you purchase weighs exactly what it says on the label."
Inspectors with the department’s Standards Division begin by counting the number of hams, turkeys and other meat products included in the inspection. Grocery stores with one to 250 pieces require a random sample of 12, and grocery stores with greater than 250 items require a random sample of 24. Most stores fall in the greater-than-250 range. After the count, an inspector weighs each sample, using a reference manual and experience to know how much tare weight to take into consideration. The tare weight is the weight of the packaging and cannot be factored into the cost of the product. "The general rule is if you can't eat it, don't count it," said Bryan Moore, a standards inspector from Graham.
Packaging includes any plastic wrapping and padding that may be added on the inside of the product. "We don't penalize if the product is overweight, but any product not meeting the weight listed on the package is immediately pulled from the shelf, and more from the lot will be tested to make sure the problem isn't with all the packages,” Moore said. The product cannot be sold until a new label reflecting the correct weight is printed for the product. Occasionally, products come to a store with pre-printed labels showing the weight. These products must be sent back to the distribution center for repackaging if found to be labeled with an incorrect weight.
Stores also have an annual routine inspection by the Standards Division to ensure accuracy of all their scales, scanners and items that are sold by weight. A store such as Super Walmart can take up to two days to inspect. A standard grocery store, such as a Food Lion or Harris Teeter, takes about six hours. When just checking the weight on hams and turkeys, inspectors can visit five or six stores a day.
The NCDA&CS Standards Division's measurement section inspects weighing and measuring devices for accuracy and performs inspections of packaged goods to ensure that they contain the stated net content. In addition to hams and turkeys, inspectors check other items on a seasonal basis, including pine bark and mulch in February, taxi cab meters in March, and strawberry and produce scales in April.