26 March 2007

Rancid Milk

I've lived near the Albertsons grocery store near Broadway and Alameda in Denver for about seven years. These days though, I don't shop there much. Why? Because this Albertsons store routinely sells rancid milk.

For the first few years I shopped there, I bought a bad gallon of fat free milk from them maybe once a year. The rest of the time, it was fine. But, at some point, after having about three out of four of my most recent fat free milk purchases go sour within a day, despite "sell by" dates to the contrary, I gave up.

I still do go to Albertsons every once and a while when milk isn't on my list. And, since then, every six months to a year or so, I have had to stop by Albertsons for something, and I have convinced myself that surely my previous experience was a fluke. After all, this is a large, publicly held company with thousands of customers who could complain, which is regulated by the health department. And, if they keep putting milk up for sale, somebody must buy it, which shouldn't happen if it is usually bad. But, on all but one occassion since I stopped regularly shopping there and bought milk, I wound up with a gallon of rancid fat free milk again when I did so. My most recent experience with bad milk from Albertsons was this month, about six or eight months since I last bought milk there, when it was also rancid. Thus, in my experience, about 80% of their fat free milk purchases over my last ten or so purchases from this Albertsons have been rancid.

Even if my experience is atypical, it is extremely likely, given my experience, that an unacceptably large percentage of their milk is rancid when sold. Assuming that each purchase is independent of every other purchase made of that kind of milk at that time of day, and that the percentage of milk that is bad is the same (which implies a binomial distribution), given my experience, there is roughly a 99.8% chance that at least 30% of the fat free milk that they sell at the times I usually go the their store is bad, and a roughly 98% chance that at least 40% of the fat free milk they sell at the times I usually go to the store is bad. There is roughly a 94% chance that at least 50% of the fat free milk that they sell at the times I usually go to the store is bad. I would consider even a 10%-20% bad milk sale percentage to be grossly unacceptable, something that even my small sample size makes almost statistically certain to be an understatement of the problem.

I doubt that they are faking due dates, although that is a possibility. I don't shop at any other Albertsons locations, so I don't know if this is a problem across the company. I assume that there is probably something wrong in the storage facilities or milk handling process at that Albertsons location. Who knows? Maybe their store is the last stop on a long delivery run to other stores. Maybe the milk gets dropped off before the stocking shift arrives at work, and it routinely sits on an unrefrigerated shipping pallett for a couple of hours. It might even being confined to the part of the dairy section where they keep the fat free milk, all the way at one side of the cooler. I don't buy other kinds of milk very often, and have never had a problem with their soy milk in the middle of the same cooler, but then again, soy milk doesn't really have to be refrigerated at all to stay good.

Could I have brought this up with a manager and gotten a refund? I suppose I could have, particularly if I took the rotten milk back with me to the store. But, I would surely be interrogated about whether I had left it out of the refrigerator too long (I didn't, I'm neurotic about putting milk away, as my wife would confirm), I would have to produce my receipt, and more importantly, it would be a hassle. I also don't believe it would produce any systemic change going forward. If that was the case, others doing the same thing would have solved the problem long ago. Why should I bother to spend an unpleasant hour or so on a busy day getting a refund on a $3 and change purchase, that won't solve the problem in the long term, when I can solve the problem going forward by shopping at any of six other grocery stores within easy driving distance of my home? As an attorney, I make money by the hour, and it simply isn't worth my time to hassle like that over a problem that can be solved going forward some other way.

Albertsons probably loses many thousands of dollars of business it would otherwise have gotten from my family each year as a result of this problem, and I'm sure, I'm not the only one who does the same thing. This one little problem could easily be costing the store hundreds of thousands or even a few million dollars of business each year. While the neighborhoods to the West of the store are less prosperous (and have grown to make up a larger share of the store's customers in recent years), the neighborhoods to the East are full of finicky people who are likely to act as I have in this situation and shop elsewhere.

The rancid milk problem probably isn't a public health threat, at least to anyone with a functioning nose or set of taste buds. You know it is bad before you've ingested any significant amount of it. So, I don't feel a great civic obligation to pursue the issue beyond my own self-interest. But, the fact that this store could so persistantly operate in a way far below commercial standards for so long doesn't impress me. What else are they doing wrong that I don't know about? Is it any wonder that Albertsons, the larger company, went on the aunction block and was purchased and split up, if this is how they do business?


Anonymous said...

I have taken bad milk and chicken back many times to various grocery stores. It seems to really embarass the manager when he has to smell the rotten food he just sold me.

Christie Donner, Ex. Director and Pamela Clifton, Outreach Coordinator said...

Get Royal Crest to deliver your milk. I have been using them for years and it is the best thing in the world. Just go to their website and they will deliver the first half gallon for free (at least they used to) It'll just make you happy. And they deliver everything. If you don't need meat or vegetables, you can actually live out of your Royal Crest box....(blizzards)

Off Colfax said...

While I rarely get rancid dairy products or rotting meat from my local King Soopers (6th & Peoria), it is an article of faith around here that anything perishable should be used within 2 days, regardless of what it says on the sell/use-by timestamp.

This is why I've stopped going to that one entirely. The store at Colfax & Chambers is only 2 minutes of additional walking time, and the quality of everything perishable (dairy, meat, produce) is much higher.

Okay. That and there's a Starbucks at that intersection. A venti no-water chai and a good book is a good way to kill off an hour or so should I arrive when the store is very busy.

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Michael Malak said...

Once at that Albertson's I saw an entire row of glass-door freezers fogged up. Then a week later there was a sign at the entrance to the store that read "all frozen food 50% off".

I just go there to get detergent and other household supplies.

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

David Stefanini, you have a fine blog, but I only link to blogs I would actually read.

As someone who throws out the sports page without reading it when it arrives in the morning, who resented it when NPR started to cover sports on its radio news show, and doesn't watch TV sports except for every once and a while watching the Superbowl or the Olympics, and neither of those events faithfully, I can't very well link to a sports blog.

Your offer is appreciated, however.

Anonymous said...

Due to the size of most of the customers at that store I would assume that the fat-free milk doesn't sell very much...

Anonymous said...

Every time i go to my grandmas house she gets milk a few days before. She always gets it frm albertsons. Everytime its got this disgusting taste and smella dn after being convinced its fine by the expiration date. I have a flass then i end up getting sick to the stomach every time. I get milk everywhere but albertsons and its fine everywhere else