Not any more

Measurement Canada finds errors in food scales often benefit shoppers

In Canada on August 17, 2010 at 21:02

OTTAWA — Shoppers can count on one thing at the grocery store — scales at the deli counter and produce scales at the checkout are inaccurate about one in 10 times.

The good news is the errant devices usually tip in favour of the customer, especially when the machines are way off, according to Measurement Canada.

Over the last five years, the government agency charged with inspecting measuring devices tested more than 49,000 computing and platform scales at 6,095 retail grocery stores, and found that nearly 4,500 devices were inaccurate. To be considered accurate, a typical grocery store scale must measure within five grams.

Overall, when scales were wrong, the error was in favour of the retailer once in every four cases.

"The ratio is quite heavy in favour of consumers," an official at Measurement Canada said.

In the 705 instances when the error was considered "very significant" — meaning the scale was off by at least 35 grams — seven out of eight consumers got more food than they paid for. The eighth customer, however, could have paid for 200 grams of cooked turkey, for example, but took home no more than 165 grams.

In such a case — or any instance where a machine shows a balance in favour of the retailer of at least 15 grams or three times the limit of error — the agency takes the machines out of circulation.

"If it’s beyond three limits of error and it’s against the consumer, we place the device under seizure," the official said.

In other cases, the agency expects the retailer to fix the machine within 14 days, part of Measurement Canada’s "graduated compliance approach."

Jack and Lenie Mansveld of Ottawa just assumed the scales used to weigh food at the grocery store were always accurate.

"I never even think about it. I just assume it’s exact," said Lenie Mansveld said Tuesday while picking up food at the deli counter at an independent grocery store.

"It’s good to know," added her husband of the trend in favour of the consumer. "I know a little about the gas pumps because sometimes you see nothing coming out but the numbers keep moving."

Krista Pawley, spokeswoman for the Canadian Council of Grocery Distributors, said retailers take seriously the accuracy of their scales because "consumers need to know that the price they pay is accurate."

That why "if a miscalibration is noted, appropriate and timely measures are taken to remedy the situation," said Pawley.

The newly released data about the retail food sector, covering January 2005 to December 2009, paint a different picture than the one at gas stations uncovered by a 2008 Ottawa Citizen investigation.

That analysis, based on electronic records of more than 200,000 government inspections dating back to 1999, found nearly five per cent of gas pumps tested in Canada were inaccurate. Of the pumps that showed measurement errors, about 75 per cent were giving out less gas, not more.

Measurement Canada responded to the probe by ramping up inspections at gas stations. The agency confirmed that 4.6 per cent of gas pumps inspected measured short by as much as $2 per fill-up, totalling a multimillion dollar shortfall for consumers.

Earlier this year, the government introduced legislation to amend the Weights and Measures Act. Dubbed the Fairness at the Pumps Act, the bill sets out mandatory inspection frequencies for devices, including those at grocery stores and gas pumps. The bill also proposes new administrative monetary penalties for minor violations and proposes to increase court-imposed fines to $10,000 for offences, up from $1,000.

If the legislation passes, scales in the retail food sector would have to be inspected at least once every five years.

© Copyright (c) Postmedia News

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