The Joy of Returning: Suspect foods go back to market


‘Tis the season for resolutions, recycling, recovering and returns.

For the new year, I need to make a resolution to recycle more diligently, pray for recovery for us all, and as for the returns, I have mastered this art. As the self-proclaimed Queen of Returns, my hobby includes everything from shoes and sport utility vehicles to an assortment of food items.

Here are some practical tips on what you can return without becoming a supermarket pest.

As I stroll through the glass doors of the grocery store, I feel the adrenaline rush as my heart palpitates, my breath quickens, and my sweating and trembling hands clutch the thermal bag loaded with stinky food and damaged go-backs.

Some stores are more forgiving than others, but they all insist on a receipt for a cash refund and sometimes for even a store credit. That’s why I now keep mine so that I can apply the credit to the day’s grocery shopping.

I also try to alternate cashiers to avoid back-to-back returns with the same checker. At one supermarket, I mistakenly made two or three returns to the same person in one month. She logged me into a return black list, and I never went through her line again.

My most commonly returned items are the jars that are either “poor poppers” or “no poppers,” that is, jars that don’t make the crisp, succinct popping sound when the seal is broken. In my germ-conscious (and somewhat twisted) mind, if I hear a wimpy pop, I am convinced that the jar has been tampered with by some wacko who either gets his kicks popping jars on supermarket shelves when no one is looking or took the jars home and spiked them with some gross or toxic substance and then returned them. Now I have a family member stand by as a witness to verify the absence or presence of a pop. If neither one of us hears a sound, then back it goes.

Another one of my regularly returned items is the dinged can. I have since learned through bitter experience to examine canned goods for dings or dents, but every now and then one slips by, and back it goes. Same with bags or boxes with tears, holes or tattered edges — supermarket bound.

If the expiration date has slipped passed my eagle eyes at the store and is less than three days out, then back we go.

Cracked eggs or ones with bloodshot yolks are another non-negotiable go-back. Although I was beat at my own game recently when I returned a carton containing eight eggs as the others were cracked and bloodshot. The cashier methodically took a dozen from the cooler, removed four and then gave me the remaining eight.

If my returns have been unwisely picked and I’m left holding a watermelon that resembles soap in both taste and texture, moldy berries, a brown-fleshed avocado, fish that smells fishy, chicken that smells fishy or anything else that smells like locker-room socks, supermarkets are usually amenable to take it back. On the positive side, checkers don’t like dealing with these nasties either, so many times I’ve been granted a gimme allowing me to do a verbal return without the necessity of physically producing these offensive items. This saves on having to deodorize the car afterwards, too.

In honor of my most impressive return — a lemon — and no, not the lip-puckering citrus, but a vehicular lemon, my sport utility vehicle that was returned to the manufacturer under the California Lemon Law, here’s an authentic recipe for avgolemono, a Mediterranean lemon egg soup that is bliss in a bowl. Many happy returns!

Avgolemono (Greek Lemon Soup)

  • 4 cups of chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup of long grain rice or orzo
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 1/4 cup of fresh lemon juice
  • Black pepper and coarse salt

In a medium pot, bring the stock to a boil. Add the rice or pasta and simmer until tender, about 15 minutes. While the rice is cooking, in a medium mixing bowl, beat the yolks with the lemon juice. Ladle one cup of the broth into the eggs, beating constantly for one minute.
Gradually whisk the egg mixture into the stockpot and simmer, stirring constantly until the soup thickens. Add salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with fresh chopped parsley and lemon slices.