Dear Abby: Eating contents before paying can be considered shoplifting

Dear Abby: I am responding to the letter from “Unsure in the West” (Oct. 9). You advised that you “see nothing wrong with what she did” in opening a box in a grocery store and eating some of the contents before paying at the checkout. You should know that legally, eating or using the contents of an unpaid item in the aisle is considered “shoplifting.” The perpetrator can be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

I am a certified protection professional. While the intent may not be to “steal,” retailers – whose industry loses billions of dollars to theft each year – require that items in their stores be paid for before they can be used or eaten.

An employee of mine was assigned to work in a major grocery chain. He took a bottle of eye drops and used them while he was in the aisle. He had taken the exact change from his pocket and was holding it in his hand as he walked to the checkout. Before he could get there, he was arrested by store security. As a courtesy to me, the chain agreed to reinstate him if he passed a lie-detector test determining his “intent to steal.” (He passed the test.)

I strongly recommend that the practice of using or eating items before paying for them never be condoned. – Allan in Yonkers

Dear Allan: I apologize for saying otherwise and thank you for your letter. Other readers also responded to that column citing firsthand experiences working in the retail field.

Several of them mentioned that it is impossible to correctly charge for food that is sold by weight if someone has eaten some, such as fruit. Others said that customers sometimes get to the register to pay and realize they have left their wallet at home, or their credit card is rejected.

A reader also suggested that if someone wants to pay for food after consuming it, that’s what restaurants are for. In restaurants, if the customer can’t pay, there are dishes to be washed.

What teens need to know about sex, drugs, AIDS and getting along with peers and parents is in “What Every Teen Should Know.” Send your name and mailing address, plus check or money order for $7 (U.S. funds) to: Dear Abby, Teen Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Shipping and handling are included in the price.)