Sunday, August 14, 2011

why I rarely buy food from Costco

I should preface this with some clarification. For years we have shopped at Costco almost weekly and loved most aspects. Granted, we have never loved the impersonal, warehouse ambiance or the sometimes inexperienced and under-prepared staff, but it's kind of an adventure seeing just what will be on the shelves and in the aisles from one week to the next.

My concern with their food, though, is a significant one. It is not unusual to see freezer doors standing open for long periods of time with pallets of, hopefully, frozen food waiting to be put away. I've witnessed on many occasions, a group of employees standing near open doors like this visiting or discussing work or whatever for up to 30 minutes while the food sits there waiting. I couldn't help timing them; it's the OCD thing. Of course, any of us who shop there have seen foods that should be refrigerated or frozen sitting throughout the store, say with the shirts, and then returned to its "appropriate" location. Appropriate, in my opinion, would be the trash at that point. When you and I pick up something from a refrigerated shelf, we tend to expect that the item has been kept chilled since production. And this memory fest would not be complete without noting the fly trapped inside the package of freshly made party sandwiches we were about to buy a few years ago, but I'm hoping that was a fluke..

 What worries me even more, though, is where this food originated. I like to buy local, as I've often mentioned, and am amused to see produce from across the world on the shelves when those products are grown right here. I'm not talking out of season now, I mean tomatoes in July, for instance. I am concerned, too, about fish, which is sometimes caught in the cold waters of Alaska or Canada and then shipped to China for processing because that's cheaper than doing it locally, even factoring in the transportation costs. Wow! It still amazes me that companies do that. I am certainly not saying that all the fish at Costco has been handled this way. I am saying I feel we all have reason to question it. A look at the packaging is telling. Some have statements that are very clear and thorough, others leave you to fill in the gaps. I worry about those gaps. At least the packaging on the farm-raised Atlantic salmon, if one were even remotely tempted to buy it, states clearly that color has been added.

The entire issue is clearly and inexcusably, in my opinion, punctuated by the incorporation of ingredients grown and processed in China into foods labeled organic. We used to buy Costco's organic, frozen mixed vegetables. I know it's not the best, but they were handy to have in a pinch. I'd throw them into soups in the winter or add them to a stew. More recently, probably following the edamame craze, Costco has seen fit to add edamame from China to their organic vegetable mix, previously grown exclusively in the US.

I should be clearer, I suppose. I am not anti-imports. I love many of them, but this issue has multiple implications, including the need to support our local economies. But I'm a foodie of sorts, and a bit of a health nut by necessity. On top of that, I'm not really excited about the possibility of slowly, or quickly for that matter, poisoning my family. Shoot, we're warned against buying dog food from China.


  1. Which is why we only buy foods from reputable sources,who we know and trust, and grow what we can in our local area. I have never been in and out of Costco in less than 30 minutes, and know very few who have. Turn a corner and the same employees are once again visible leaning on a stack of what was frozen shrimp. Of course not all employees are so irresponsible, but it does happen.

  2. For anyone in central or southern California looking for a good source for produce you can trust, check out Abundant Harvest Organics (

    You know your farmer and that certainly adds a bit of assurance that what they say is what you get. In any case, organic or not, I hope we all know it's a routine and necessary practice to wash all produce. Whether or not chemical fertilizers or pesticides are used, clearly many opportunities exist for contamination, even the rain is far from clean. After all, our ultimate goal is a healthy mind, body, and soul.

  3. Thanks for the heads up.


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