Am I within my "rights" to return moldy strawberries?
August 2, 2014 10:00 PM   Subscribe

Yesterday I bought a huge (4-lb) clamshell box of strawberries from Trader Joe's. I used about a pound of them yesterday and then mistakenly did not store them in the fridge. The ambient temperature in the kitchen has been around 80F. This evening I found that most of them have mold growing on them. Would it be fair for me to return them to Trader Joe's?

I understand that I did not store them properly, but it seems crazy to me that they would mold within a day. I've never had strawberries go bad that quickly before. It cost about $8 (which is a lot for me) so it just seems like such a waste.
posted by majesty_snowbird to Food & Drink (18 answers total)
Response by poster: Also wanted to add that they were not being refrigerated at the store.
posted by majesty_snowbird at 10:05 PM on August 2, 2014

If you have receipt then I say return them immediately. Get a refund or replacement.
posted by nogero at 10:07 PM on August 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Trader Joe's has a super liberal return policy, so I'm almost certain they would take them back. And if you're concerned about the morality of it- I wouldn't sweat it. They really shouldn't have gone moldy that quickly.
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:07 PM on August 2, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Yes, it is fine for you to return them. I am a produce manager, and I would WANT my customers to return berries that got moldy within one day. They were probably starting to mold when you bought them. Berries are super perishable, this happens frequently, and it's no big deal to take them back and ask for an exchange or refund. You don't even need to explain that you left them out overnight. "I bought these yesterday and they're already bad" is fine. I'm sure they'll take care of it for you.
posted by ezrainch at 10:08 PM on August 2, 2014 [9 favorites]

Trader Joe's has been notorious for years for its produce going bad more quickly than produce from other stores. I noticed it very quickly after they first came to town and stopped going soon after that. The problem has been mentioned repeatedly by folks in AskMe over the years.

It's a known issue, with likely explanations related to Trader Joe's management decisions. Bottom line: you should never feel bad about returning spoiled produce to Trader Joe's.
posted by mediareport at 12:29 AM on August 3, 2014 [4 favorites]

(Oops, the "mentioned" should go here.)
posted by mediareport at 12:37 AM on August 3, 2014

I have always had this problem with strawberries. Those little buggers rot instantly. You have no right to new berries if you left them out of a fridge for that long on a summer day.
posted by deathpanels at 4:06 AM on August 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

By the way, the reason TJs produce goes bad quickly is that they source most, if not all, of their produce from surplus from larger groceries. So your strawberries were probably older than the strawberries at Whole Foods and therefore closer to rotting. This is also why they're cheaper, and explains why TJs randomly gets huge supplies of some vegetable or fruit but is mysteriously out of some other staple. They have to buy whatever is surplus in the market. (Actually, most grocery chains work this way.)
posted by deathpanels at 4:10 AM on August 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

If TJ's had had them in the fridge case, I'd feel like you wouldn't have a case. However, they had them out at room temp (and I've seen this at my TJ's before). It's been less than 24 hours. I think you have a definite case for returning.

I love Trader Joe's for staples, but as others have said, their quality on perishables is really hit or miss. I try to stick to longer-lived stuff (onions, citrus, zucchini, that kind of thing) unless I can get it eaten immediately.
posted by pie ninja at 6:12 AM on August 3, 2014

While refrigerating berries keeps them from going moldy, it's terrible for the flavor and texture of the berries. I wouldn't refrigerate them normally and I'd expect them to be good for at least 24 hours!

Take them back.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:39 AM on August 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

For future reference: it helps to preserve strawberries longer if when you get them home, you wrap them in paper towels before stashing them in the fridge. Just take them out of the package, line it with the paper towels, then re-load them in.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:05 AM on August 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

the reason TJs produce goes bad quickly is that they source most, if not all, of their produce from surplus from larger groceries.

Do you have a direct source for that? I remember reading something similar years ago but can't find a clear source now. I'd love to have one. Back to the point, given your comment above, I really don't see how you can support your comment below:

Those little buggers rot instantly. You have no right to new berries if you left them out of a fridge for that long on a summer day.

Again, strawberries I buy from Fresh Market, Whole Foods, the local farmers' market, Harris Teeter, etc, do not "rot instantly" when left out on the counter for a day. This is a known issue with Trader Joe's (don't get me started about how fast their hummus goes bad, even in the fridge), and is part of the reason Trader Joe's is also known for being accomodating when customers return perishables. It's perfectly fair to respond to their system with a return.
posted by mediareport at 8:40 AM on August 3, 2014

I had this happen to me with strawberries at Whole Foods. I forgot to put them in the refrigerator and they grew mold over night. They were stored at room temperature at the Whole Foods. I returned them and the customer service guy was very apologetic.
posted by parakeetdog at 9:08 AM on August 3, 2014

For future use, I've had this problem most with farmer's market berries, and I've discovered rinsing them in a vinegar water solution really helps keep them from molding, even at room temperature.
posted by instamatic at 10:59 AM on August 3, 2014

I used to manage a small produce store, and I'd have been on the fence about this return.

80° F is really warm for fruit (organic fruit is even more vulnerable, and strawberries in particular tend more toward mold than other berries). "Room temperature" in the produce section of a store is more like 60°, specifically to help keep the produce fresh.

I think it's reasonable to ask for a refund, but it would also be reasonable for the store to refuse.
posted by bubukaba at 2:10 PM on August 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone, I returned them and they gave me a refund no problem. ...In the future I'll probably just buy the strawberries I need the day of. And no more than that.
posted by majesty_snowbird at 5:05 PM on August 3, 2014

BTW, I solve this problem AND get super cheap produce by shopping per meal, or sometimes one meal ahead. Yes, this sounds crazy, but it's absolutely do-able if you live within a short distance of a grocery store. It's probably easier if you're in a city where you're on foot walking past grocery stores anyway.
posted by deathpanels at 9:08 PM on August 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

In the future, you can help your berries last longer by washing them, bathing them in a 1:10 solution of white vinegar and water, rinsing and refrigerating. You don't even really need the rinse... You likely won't taste the vinegar.
posted by thinman at 9:21 AM on August 4, 2014

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