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Whole Foods Overcharged Calif. Customers; Will Pay $800K

Grocery chain Whole Foods Market Inc has agreed to pay $800,000 after an investigation found the company had been overcharging California customers.

The year-long investigation was followed by a civil consumer protection lawsuit brought by the city attorneys of Santa Monica, Los Angeles and San Diego reports Reuters.

According to the Santa Monica City Attorney's office, among the problems found by state and county Weights and Measures inspectors at the company's California stores:

  • Failing to subtract the weight of containers used for self-serve foods at the salad bar and hot bar.
  • Giving customers less weight than stated on the label for packaged items sold by the pound.
  • Selling prepared deli foods by the piece, instead of by the pound as required by law.

A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge hearing the case issued a five-year injunction covering all 74 Whole Foods stores in California. Under the terms of the injunction, Whole Foods must:

  • Appoint two "state coordinators" to oversee pricing accuracy at Whole Foods stores throughout California;
  • Designate an employee at every store who will be responsible to assure pricing accuracy throughout the store;
  • Conduct random audits four times a year at each of its stores to assure that all prices are accurate and that proper weight is being deducted for all containers; and
  • Provide the advertised weight on all items and charge accurately.

Whole Foods also must pay almost $800,000 in penalties and court costs, including $630,000 in penalties, $100,000 to a consumer protection trust fund, and $68,394 for costs.

Whole Foods isn't the only grocery retailer with less-than-stellar check-out accuracy. A 2010 ABC News report found that consumers lose up to $2.5 billion a year from being overcharged for the items they purchase.

What can you do if you believe you were overcharged for weighed items? In California, the California Department of Food and Agriculture suggests either filing a complaint with the weights and measures office in the county where the business is located or filing a complaint form with the state Division of Measurement Standards. Although the process may differ depending on what state you're, as shown by this case, the government can and will crack down on unscrupulous business practices.

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