Time For A Refresher: What Is Tare Weight & Why Should I Care About It?

What you don’t know can hurt you — at least when it comes to feeling the pain in your wallet. So if you’re not savvy when it comes to tare weight, you could be leaking money at places like the grocery store salad bar. It’s been awhile since we’ve discussed tare weight, so let’s have a little refresher course, shall we?

Tare weight came to mind after a recent article from the Star-Ledger in New Jersey highlighting one with-it shopper who knew he was paying more for salad bar items from ShopRite. A cashier weighed two of his plastic containers stacked atop each other, one larger than the other, and got a total of 2.43 pounds worth of product. When weighed separately by another cashier, the total was 2.35 pounds — all because of tare weight.

So what is it? It’s the weight of a container or package your food comes in, from to-go containers at the salad bar or the styrofoam “boat” and piece of absorbent paper — aka the “diaper” — cradling chicken breasts. Before a cashier can charge you for an item, the tare weight must be subtracted from the entire weight of the package.  The Division of Consumer Affairs has a specific department dedicated to keeping an eye on how tare weights are handled — the Office of Weights and Measures.

As the Star-Ledger found at different stores, many containers are weighted in stacked fashion, meaning the tare weight wasn’t properly subtracted. And then there’s the problem that many cashiers don’t even know what tare weight is — so how can they know to subtract the appropriate amount?

Tare weight comes into play in other places — anything heavy loaded onto a truck might be weighed with the entire vehicle. The weight of the truck would then be subtracted as the tare weight. All scales must be tested and certified annually by a state’s Weights and Measures offices. A slight variation in weight, called the “maximum allowable variation” is permitted.

Makes sense, which is why if the container isn’t entered properly into pre-programmed digital scales, like the ones at supermarkets which can have codes for various sizes and types of packaging, consumers could be paying extra.

The office of Consumer Affairs in New Jersey says it contacted ShopRite’s parent corporation to make sure thing are done correctly from now on.

“They represented to us that they corrected the matter after speaking with us, and agreed to re-train all staff at the store to ensure employees properly subtract the tare weight from items when it is necessary to do so prior to sale,” said Consumer Affairs Director Eric Kanefsky. “Our Office of Weights and Measures will follow up, on an unannounced basis, to ensure this concern has indeed been corrected.”

If you think a tare weight hasn’t been calculated correctly on your purchase, ask the cashier, and follow up with your state’s Consumer Affairs office if need be.

Previously in tare weight issues: Walmart Fined $89,705 For Overcharging Wisconsin Customers 

Bamboozled: Shopper says he was unfairly charged for deli counter container [Star-Ledger]