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The Verde Independent | Cottonwood, Arizona

home : features : features May 24, 2016

10/22/2013 3:11:00 PM
Tortillas Interference? State shows some stores shorting customers

Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services

PHOENIX -- Have a recipe that calls for two dozen tortillas?

A new state investigation finds you may get home from the grocery store to find you're just a bit short.

Shawn Marquez of the state Department of Weights and Measures, said nearly one out of every five stores his inspectors checked earlier this month were selling packaged tortillas that were short by either the number or the weight advertised. That included both tortillas made locally by some stores as well as national products shipped in to Arizona.

The result was merchants with noncompliant products being forced to take all of that particular item off the shelves.

One tortilla here and there may not seem like much. But Marquez, who heads the agency's compliance division, said the result is the same: Consumers are not getting what they paid for.

"Is it tortillagate? No,' said Marquez, who heads the agency's compliance division. "It is a problem? Yes.'

And Marquez said while the inspections were in the state's two big metro areas, the findings suggest a problem with similar products sold statewide.

Marquez said the inspection process starts with pulling a few of each brand off the shelf, weighing and counting the contents. If there is no problem, they move on.

But once they find a package coming up short, then they pull every one of the same item from the shelves and start testing.

Overall, 8,473 packages of tortillas were inspected, one by one, at 36 stores.

Marquez said his inspectors recognize there are certain variations, at least in weight, that can occur in the manufacturing process. So he's not terribly concerned if just one package comes up just slightly short of weight.

But several packages that are short -- or even one that is far below what is advertised -- will result in inspectors yanking the entire batch from sale.

Seven of the 36 stores found themselves in exactly that position.

Marquez said local grocers whose store-made tortillas came up short were told to figure out what went wrong and correct the manufacturing process before they could offer the items again.

For retailers offering those national brands, the situation is a bit different.

"We are not going to hold them responsible,' he said. "We are going to hold the out of state vendor responsible.'

But that still creates problems for the stores. When inspectors find sufficient packages where the weight or count is short, the grocer is barred from selling any of that item. And that means they have to ship it back to the out-of-state firm that made the tortillas to get a refund.

Marquez said his inspectors found no particular pattern in which types of packages came up short, with the sizes of the products pulled from sale ranging from 10-count packages all the way up to 5 pounds.

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