Did The Gross Grocer Ruin My Food?

Dear Miriam,

While doing the last of my Passover shopping, the cashier stuck her finger in her mouth, picked something out of her teeth, and then continued ringing out my purchases. I couldn’t think of anything to say or do so I just stood there, horrified. Do I need to throw out all my food now?


Gross Groceries


Dear Gross,

Well, this is disgusting. Also, I’m about to tell you a lot of things you won’t like, namely, all kinds of people in all kinds of circumstances touch your food before it gets to your kitchen. Most of the time, you can’t see it and will never know what transpired. In this case, it happened right in front of you, but in every factory, field, processing center, and industrial kitchen, someone has probably done something similar.

Before you burn all your groceries and take a vow to grow all your own food, let’s put this situation further in perspective. You wash produce before you eat it. You heat a lot of the food you buy, killing germs in the process. Processed foods have already been heated and filled with preservatives before they get to you. Many products come in packages that protect the actual food for any germy hands. Time passes between many of these touch points and when you actually eat the food, giving germs plenty of time to die. Your own immune system encounters all kinds of potential invaders all day long and, for most of us anyway, knows how to deal with it. 

Of course, my practical and totally unscientific take does nothing to address the ick factor you’re experiencing. You had a totally understandable visceral reaction to seeing something yucky right in front of you. The cashier was wrong to touch her face while touching other people’s food. You could report the store to the health department, and you could probably get this cashier fired, but that would cause real human harm to an actual person, whereas in the current situation, you’re just a little grossed out. 

You could also stage a flashback to March 2020 and wash your groceries if it will give you peace of mind. You can avoid this store or that particular cashier in the future. You can tell this story to share the gross-out feeling with your family and friends (but probably don’t if they’re eating these particular groceries at your seder table). Or, you can remember that people are human, and find a way to forgive and forget. And next time, maybe, be prepared to offer some hand sanitizer rather than just sitting with your own disgust.

Be well,