The Produce Project: Day 1–Training

As I mentioned last time, I began my first day working in a supermarket produce department throwing out about 50 pounds of fruit and vegetables. My first task was culling all of the packaged produce with a sell-by date that fell on that day, despite it being 8 a.m. 

By the time I had finished throwing away the perfectly good pineapple, watermelon, lettuce, mushrooms, etc., I was told to report to the office for training. This consisted of watching the appropriately titled “Entry Level Produce Associate Training Video” on an old, dusty computer. In that engrossing work, I learned that “the rule of thumb when culling is to ask yourself if you would buy the product. If you wouldn’t buy it, then why would the customer?”

The video continued, “If you ever have a question about whether a product should be culled, remove it and discuss it with your manager.” Later, whenever I’d ask my manager, who I’ll call Larry here, he’d invariably say, “Toss it.”

Moving along in the cartoon-laden training, I learned why I’d been put right to use: All dated items were to be removed by 9 a.m. on the day of the sell-by date. The reason, it explained, was to “ensure we are offering the freshest quality produce to our customers so that they will shop with us again and again.”

You can’t argue with that logic–or can you? Sure, it makes sense, but I know that the clientele also enjoyed saving money. Whenever we would put out discounted bananas that were already ripe, they sold like hot cakes.

The training even featured a visual culling exercise. It pictured an apple and said “Would you cull this item?” After clicking yes or no, I had to pass the same test with a pear, tomato and lettuce. Of course, there were no consequences for answering incorrectly.

The manager occasionally poked his head in a few times to ask if I was done yet. I needed to fill the holes I’d created with that morning’s culling. After all, it looked bad to have empty slots in the cold case. Apparently not as bad as having an item there on its sell-by date.

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