Is It Illegal in Arizona to Eat Before Paying at the Grocery Store?
The other day I was standing in the produce section at Fry's Food trying to decide whether or not it was worth paying the extra forty-five cents for organic cucumbers.
While I was weighing my options, I glanced up just in time to see a grandfatherly type pushing a grocery cart. In the child seat was a young girl of about 3-years-old, presumably his granddaughter. The pair were making silly faces at each other, giggling and having a pretty good time.
I couldn't hear the whole conversation, but as they paused in front of the fruit, the little one pointed at some green grapes nearby. Grandpa considered for a moment, checked the sale price, and then put a small bag of grapes into the cart, in the seat right next to his grandbaby.
She reached into the bag and pulled out a few grapes, showing them to Pop Pop. (I was closer at this point and heard her call him by name.)
"Sure, Baby," he responded to her request, and she popped the grapes into her mouth. Then offered "Pop Pop" a few, as well, which he happily ate, accompanied by more silly giggling.
Is Eating Food Before You Pay Stealing?
Setting aside the instant mom-inspired omigawd, gross! reaction I had toward the pair eating the germy, unwashed, possibly pesticide-laden fruit right out of the filthy bag - the rest of my inner mom screamed (inside my head, I think), "Isn't that STEALING?"
What Arizona Law Says
According to the legal website, Findlaw.com, it's not uncommon to see customers popping a few grapes or loose jellybeans into their mouth while shopping. In fact, most stores don't give it a second thought. But is this actually shoplifting and is it legal?
"...in general, shoplifting requires two elements:
- Taking possession of an item being offered for sale, and
- The intent to permanently deprive the item's rightful owner (the grocery store, in this case), without paying for it."
For something like this to be considered stealing, the shopper must have committed the act of taking the item and have the intention of evading the checkout counter.
According to the law, these two things have to happen in order to be found guilty of shoplifting in Arizona.
But What if the Item is Sold by Weight?
If you've just opened a bag of Skittles and you're walking around munching on them, it might be okay. The fixed price and the bar code are on the product, and no matter how many you consume, the price is going to stay the same.
As long as you run the Skittle bag through the checkout line and pay for them, you'll probably be fine, legally speaking.
If an item is priced by weight, though, like Pop Pop's grapes, you might be walking into a bit of hot water. Pop Pop is legally responsible for paying for whatever he and his little princess ate. If they don't pay for what they've already eaten, then technically they stole it.
This happens so often, most stores have a protocol for this and as long as you fess up at the register, they clerk will add a guess-timate to your grocery bill.
Now about those pesticides and unwashed produce. That's a post for another day.