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March 3rd, 2011 - A Public Service Announcement - You May Be Wasting Money

My position as a Plant Pest & Disease Specialist for the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture brings me a lot of interdepartmental email. And I read a lot of Press Releases that I probably wouldn't if it wasn't for my job.
In Wisconsin, the Department of Agriculture operates under the "DATCP" or the "Department of Trade & Consumer Protection". As agricultural inspectors, we are responsible for the consumer protection of the growers, dealers, and end-users of plant materials, trying to make sure you get what you think you are paying for: plants free of pests, and plants that live up to their description and guarantee. Yes, some plants do come with a guarantee.
Another department under the DATCP umbrella is the state's main "Department of Consumer Protection", and within that resides the "Department of Weights & Measures." I read their releases religiously. It is to this entity I would like to draw your attention.
Weights & Measures is one of those near transparent governmental branches that works hard for you everyday, but unless you go looking for it, rarely do you realize the importance and numbers of what they do.

W & M Inspectors check the accuracy of gas pumps, prices at the checkout registers, grocery store scales, package weights, home heating fuel deliveries, and ALL other products sold by weight or measure. 
In 2010, DATCP weights and measures inspectors completed 192,045 inspections at 5,513 business locations throughout the state. 
The National Conference on Weights and Measures (NCWM) estimates that weights and measures inspectors nationwide save the average family about $600 a year.

Here's the Wisconsin 2010 Weights & Measures Summary:

Number of
Total Accuracy
Gas Pumps30,26499.6%97.8%
Price Scanners
(Items Tested)
Retail Scales8,72999.6%97.5%
Package Weight
(Packages Tested)
*Percentage of time a consumer would be charged accurately or undercharged.
** Includes all overcharges and undercharges.

When you look at the accuracy rates and think of the sheer volume of transactions involved with these different measuring devices, it boggles the mind. Just because your sleek, super fast, convenient, carpal-tunnel inducing price scanner at the store down the street rings up your breath mints at $1.79 doesn't mean it's right EVERY TIME.

After testing over 29,000 items, it was only right 96.8% of the time. If your gun was going to fire a bullet out the barrel 96.8% of the time, and a bullet in your face 3.2% of the time, would you shoot it?

We put a lot of trust in our technology and take for granted that it is doing us right.

In June of 2010, a weights and measures investigation led to the conviction of a St. Croix County man. 
John Rassbach, of Rassbach Oil, was sentenced to four years in prison on 14 criminal counts of theft. Rassbach was ordered to pay $165,000 in restitution for stealing heating fuel from customers by overcharging through underfilling their tanks.
15 companies paid civil forfeiture settlements – totaling $216,461 – in 2010, as a result of weights and measures inspections into the following issues:

Wisconsin CVS Pharmacy, L.L.C.$93,332Inaccurate prices
Waukesha Wholesale Foods, Inc.$24,126Short weight seafood
Supreme Lobster & Seafood Co.$22,245Short weight seafood
Eastern Fisheries, Inc.$13,857Short weight seafood
Home Depot USA, Inc.$9,276Inaccurate prices
Roundy’s Supermarkets, Inc.$9,100.50Short weight seafood
Aldi, Inc.$7,756Short weight seafood
Marder Trawling, Inc.$7,756Short weight seafood
Topco Associations, L.L.C.$6,235Short weight seafood
Milton Propane, Inc.$5,570Short weight LPG cylinders
Schnuck Markets, Inc.$5,570Short weight seafood
New Horizons Supply Cooperative$5,023.50Short weight LPG cylinders
Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.$3,161Short weight seafood
Abbyland Truck Stop, L.L.C.$2,406Short measure fuel
South Padre Seafoods$1,047Short weight seafood
In these settlements, none of the businesses admitted to committing the above-mentioned violations.

That's a chunk of change. And a lot of people are paying money for ice with their fish. Some quotes had it worked out to $23 a pound for some of the ice-stuffed seafood.

In 2009, state weights and measures inspectors conducted 178,844 inspections, including: 28,979 gas pumps, 25,637 price scanners, 7,538 retail scales and 110,539 package weights.
Twelve companies paid civil forfeiture settlements totaling $504,347 in 2009 as a result of weights and measures inspections. Many of these cases involved price scanner issues. 

It sounds pretty dry, but this week is Weights and Measures Week in Wisconsin.
"This week marks the signing of the first weights and measures law by then President John Adams on March 2, 1799. Wisconsin's Weights and Measures program dates back to 1839, when the Wisconsin Territorial Legislature enacted a law to standardize weights and measures."
So hat's off to your Weights & Measures people!

I am currently working on a presentation to teach people observational skills. One of the factors in observation is knowing what to look for. I vow to do better at this myself, and notice more things around me. Wasting money should be a pretty good motivation...

Here are some things you can do.

As far as gas pumps go:

>    Compare the price on the pump with posted advertisements to make sure they are the same.
>    Make sure the pump’s dial resets to zero before you start to pump gas.
>    Check to see the price per gallon remains the same throughout the pumping process. If the price changes or the numbers appear to skip, black out, or advance too fast that you cannot read them, there may be a problem.
>    Make sure the meter stops running when you stop the pump.
>    Check the price computation for accuracy. (Pump prices round up to the nearest whole cent.)
>    Always get a receipt, even when paying by cash, as this is your proof of purchase.
>    Review the receipt and make any errors known to the store clerk immediately.

General shopping:

>    Write down prices or special sales as you shop. In grocery stores, consider writing the price on packaging without a price tag. 
>    Bring the store's ad with you. Some advertised specials such as 25% off or a two-for-one sale may not be in the computer, and the cashier must enter them manually. 
>    When sold by weight, all items must be sold by net weight. The wrapping or container should not be included. This also applies to packaged items, which must indicate net weight. 
>    At the checkout counter, watch the display screen as prices appear. If you think you are being overcharged, speak up. Ask the cashier to make any adjustment before you pay. Some stores simply adjust the price; others deduct an additional amount or offer the mispriced item for free.
>    Check your receipt before you leave the store. If you have already left the cashier’s lane, talk to a store manager to correct any mistakes.

Wisconsin law requires stores to charge the lowest advertised price and refund any overcharges. Most overcharges are unintentional. Regardless of the reason, the law requires refunds when consumers are overcharged.

So hey, don't believe everything you read. Stop, Look, & Listen. Eat your vegetables. Wash behind your ears. Just kidding. 
But if we keep cutting the budget, you may have to do this stuff yourself from now on.
Even as it is, W & M inspectors can only test so much. 

So Caveat Emptor: "Let the Buyer Beware."
You're the next contestant on: IS THE PRICE RIGHT??? 

For more weights and measures information in Wisconsin, or to file a consumer complaint, contact the Bureau of Consumer Protection on the web at; via e-mail at; or call toll-free at 1-800-422-7128.

Public Service quota completed. Over and out.

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