Is It OK to Eat Groceries Before Paying?

Updated: Mar. 30, 2023

There's a difference between sampling trail mix and opening a bag of chips.

When strolling through the grocery store, it can be tempting to snag a snack. Maybe your child is hungry and urgently needs some food, or maybe you just want to make sure the fresh cherries you’re purchasing are right for your recipe. Indeed, it’s not unusual to see a customer noshing on a chocolate from the bulk bin and often, grocery workers don’t do anything about it. But is it legal to eat groceries before paying? Does it count as shoplifting? Consider this your primer on what groceries you can eat before paying for them at checkout.

Is It Legal to Eat Groceries Before Paying?

The short answer here is that it depends. According to, shoplifting is identified based on two main factors:

  1. Taking possession of an item that is for sale
  2. The intent to “permanently deprive” the rightful owner of the item without paying for it

So what does this mean? Basically, for something to qualify as shoplifting, you must not only take the item but also intend not to pay for the goods you have taken. However, intent can be hard to prove, and due to “shopkeeper’s privilege,” grocery store employees are technically allowed to search you if they suspect you of shoplifting. So, it is best to proceed with caution, particularly in regard to certain foods.

Does the Type of Food Matter When Eating Groceries Before Paying?

Cashier ringing up groceries at an undisclosed supermarket grocery storeNoel Hendrickson/Getty Images

Yes, it does. This is because some items are easier to quantify and therefore price than others. For example, a bag of chips is priced as an entire unit; opening that bag of chips and eating some of them before paying for the entire bag is usually not a problem. This is because you intend to pay for the chips you have consumed.

Where this gets trickier is when it is difficult to quantify exactly what you’ve eaten. This is especially common with items priced by weight, such as produce, bulk items, dried goods and candies. Imagine that you take a banana to feed your hungry kid and the child eats half of the fruit before you reach the checkout aisle. When the cashier goes to scan the banana, they can only weigh half of it and therefore only charge you for half of it. In this case, you have technically stolen half a banana.

Will I Get in Trouble for Eating Groceries Before Paying?

In practice, you are unlikely to get in trouble for eating your groceries before paying for them, especially if you are snacking on items priced per unit. Still, don’t go overboard! If you really want to be safe, ask a grocery store worker before sampling any items. They will likely support you in trying a grape or two or popping open a box of granola bars to grab one for your kid. Just be sure to keep that packaging so that the cashier can scan it and charge you the proper amount.