A couple of weeks ago, when I came home from a semester away at school, I was shocked to find a vacant building where my family’s go-to supermarket, Pathmark, once stood. Earlier this year, Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea, owners of A&P and Pathmark, went into bankruptcy and closed 64 stores, maybe some in your area, too.
My mother had warned me that our Pathmark was closing, but the significance of the loss didn’t hit me until a trip to a nearby Walmart turned into a wild-goose chase for lettuce. According to the produce guy there, lettuce is only sold “sometimes.” That's not what I needed to hear. Instantly, I missed my Pathmark, my family’s dependable supermarket for nearly 17 years.
Whether it was last-minute pineapples to dress the Thanksgiving ham or “I forgot it was my little sister’s birthday” cakes and cards, we could count on Pathmark to have it. My aunt, a loyal A&P shopper, found herself in the same predicament when her local store closed up. I remember the days when my aunt and mother would debate which market had the better deals. Those days are gone, leaving my aunt and mother to find a new place to shop—and save.
There may be other disappointed A&P and Pathmark shoppers out there searching for a replacement store, so I checked in with the Food Marketing Institute and found that the top three things people choosing a supermarket are looking for are clean and well-kept stores; high-quality fruits and veggies; and high-quality meats. But how do you know a store is really clean and that the food is up to snuff? You can do an easy clean check with these tips from the University of Arkansas’ Division of Agriculture.
Neatness counts—a lot. When you first walk in, give the aisles a quick glance to see how they’re organized. For example, are they labeled by category so you can easily find what you’re looking for? Are the goods neatly stacked? An orderly store can be one indicator that management cares about food quality, too.
Check out the produce. If there are any signs of fruits flies buzzing around, move on. The critters are an indication that the fruit is over the hill—spoiled or overripe. And soft, bruised fruits are breeding grounds for bacteria.
Next, head to the meat counter. Give it a sniff. To ensure the meats are good quality and the area is clean, there should be no off smells, not even a dirty mop aroma. Check the packaging. The meats should not only be red in color, there shouldn’t be any drippings on the foam packaging or oozing out of the wrap. Also, check the expiration dates to make sure it’s fresh. That red color is not always a tip-off; some meats are treated with gasses to preserve the red color long after the expiration date.
And don’t forget the fish. While your there, glance over to the seafood. Make sure it’s all on ice and that the fishes’ eyes are not cloudy—discolored eyes equal deterioration.
If both the produce and meat sections pass your clean check, proceed with shopping. But don’t forget to check the sell-by and use-before dates on packaged goods. My mom learned this the hard way when she bit into stale crackers from a new grocery store she was trying out.
P.S. We will not be shopping there again!