6 Steps to Avoid Being Overcharged at the Grocery Store

Here's what officials say you can do to prevent overpaying at grocery stores.

ByABC News
June 25, 2015, 5:51 PM

— -- Several New York City supermarket chains, including Whole Foods, have been accused by inspectors of overcharging customers mispriced items, but officials say there are steps you can take to make sure you don't overpay.

The New York City Department of Consumer Affairs announced an ongoing investigation into Whole Foods Market, which has nine locations in the area, saying the chain "routinely overstated" the weight of its pre-packaged products, including meat, dairy and baked goods. But the problem isn't just with the Austin, Texas-based chain. Aside from Whole Foods, the department inspected 119 stores citywide and found a 77 percent violation rate.

Whole Foods denies the allegations of mislabeling weighted products.

“We disagree with the DCA’s overreaching allegations and we are vigorously defending ourselves," Whole Foods said in a statement. "We cooperated fully with the DCA from the beginning until we disagreed with their grossly excessive monetary demands.

"Despite our requests to the DCA, they have not provided evidence to back up their demands nor have they requested any additional information from us, but instead have taken this to the media to coerce us.”

No matter where you shop, here are several tips from the Department of Consumer affairs to avoid being overcharged at the supermarket.

1. Check your receipt.

Just because there is a computerized system to ring up items doesn’t mean it’s always accurate, the city warns. Review your receipt to make sure you were charged the advertised price, for the correct number of items and that you weren’t charged tax on non-taxable goods such as medicines and many foods. The state's Department of Taxation has a list of items that can’t be taxed.

A person shops in a Whole Foods in Brooklyn on May 7, 2014.

2. Hold the store to its advertising.

If you see an ad, then the store must have the brand, variety and size of the item as advertised and any purchase restrictions must be stated in the advertising and not added on later in-store.

"Stores must honor their advertised prices and have reasonable quantities of the advertised goods available," the city advises consumers. "If an item is out of stock, ask for a rain check so you can buy it later at the sale price."

3. Check the scales.

Scales should start at zero and come to rest before you are quoted a weight and or a price, the city says in a tip. Make sure the store doesn’t overcharge you and deducts the weight of the empty packaging. Each scale in stores in New York City must have an up-to-date sticker from the Department of Consumer Affairs on it, certifying that it has been inspected and judged to be in working order.

4. Weigh your goods.

Store-packed foods, like nuts, or fruits must have a label on them with product identity, net weight, and name and address of distributor in New York City. In the city, the market must also provide a scale within 30 feet of the section where those goods are sold, or a sign directing you to the nearest scale.

5. Look for prices.

In cities like New York, the item price must be on an individual label, stamp or tag on the item itself.

"There are some exceptions to this rule, including tobacco, bulk food, eggs, fresh produce, milk and items on sale for seven days or fewer," according to the DCA. "The unit price – meaning the cost per pound, pint or other unit of measure – must be listed on the shelf near most products."

6. Make a shopping list, check for sales and coupons, and comparison shop.

"You can save time and money if you know what you need and shop for the best price," the city advises. "Having a list will make you less likely to be tempted while you’re shopping and help you stick to your budget."