Can I Legally Open An Unpaid Bag Of Chips And Eat It In A Store In WA State?

Growing up in Washington State, I was always surprised when my adopted mom would crack open a bag of chips or soda and eat them while shopping.

Woman chooses sausages in a vacuum package at the grocery store

Am I Shoplifting If I Eat Food Before Paying For It In Washington State?

She'd always pay for the food at the checkout counter and no one ever said a word to her but what is the legality of eating open food while shopping?

My wife considers it unsanitary as you might be touching fruit and vegetables so for her, so she considers it rude for a customer to do that while shopping.

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I've never seen anyone get into trouble for it but I've always thought the behavior to be odd.

I can't tell a lie, the minute I get to the car, I've often opened up my bought food immediately and started eating but never in the store.

In the checkout line at the grocery store.
Bruce Mikells

What is the legality of it all?

Here is what Washington State law says about opening up food in a store before paying for it:

In general, it is not illegal to eat while you shop before you pay in Washington State, but it may depend on the policies of the specific store you are shopping at.

Some stores may prohibit eating or drinking while shopping, while others may allow it.

However, if you consume food or drink from the store before paying for it and leave without paying, it could be considered shoplifting, which is illegal in Washington State.

A solid wooden floor with a black and yellow warning arrow symbol on the floor
Duncan Cuthbertson

Shoplifting is defined as the theft of merchandise from a store or business establishment.

One potential issue is eating food that needs to be weighed before purchase. If you consume grapes, candies, or dried goods, that need to be weighed before purchase, technically you are stealing and that is a crime.

To avoid any potential issues, it is best to check the store's policies and pay for any food or drink before consuming it.

You can read more details on the legality of opening up food before you pay for it in Washington State here.

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