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Getting what you pay for

FPS staff report

Very few Americans understand the effort that goes into assuring them they get what they pay for with every package of food or tank of fuel.

Who makes sure the farmers’ grain is weighed properly when delivered from the field?  The National Conference on Weights and Measures (NCWM) is using Weights and Measures Week, March 1- 7, 2014 to raise appreciation for the hard work of dedicated and highly trained regulatory officials who are working behind the scenes every day to maintain integrity in commerce.

NCWM Chair John Gaccione, director of Westchester County, New York Weights and Measures, explains that the “buyer beware” concept is just not enough for any society to prosper.  “Consumers cannot possibly protect themselves from inaccuracies in weighing and measurement,” explains Gaccione.  “The same applies to business owners who rely on a level playing field if they are to make an honest profit.”  

States are responsible for maintaining the integrity of commerce within their borders, but the infrastructure varies from state to state to meet that responsibility.  Some states maintain enforcement at the state level while others pass that authority down to the counties or even cities. Ohio is one of the few states with inspectors in every county and in the cities of Columbus and Cleveland.

Gaccione emphasized the vast scope of his occupation.  “Specialized equipment and training is necessary for inspecting large and small scales, meters for petroleum, natural gas, cryogenics, asphalt, and fertilizer, testing any sort of packaged commodity for net contents, sampling petroleum products and testing against ASTM standards, and much, much, more.”    

Even with all of that expense, the return on investment is most impressive.  A survey of programs around the country revealed that the average cost per capita is about 70 cents per year.  A single inspector can save businesses and consumers millions in that same time frame according to NCWM. 

According to the 2013 Annual Report of Ohio Local Weights and Measures Jurisdictions, Carroll County has 137 scales, 174 liquid measuring devices (pumps/meters), 18 other commercial devices, and 33 non-commercial devices that are inspected by the County Inspector, Tom Konst. These devices are inspected a minimum of once per year. High volume devices are inspected more often, sometimes at least three times per year or more and definitely if a complaint is received.

Packages in stores are checked for correct net weight and to assure that tare is taken on packages. Tare is the inedible part of the package and cannot be considered in the weight of the product. Consumers expect to pay for what they can consume, not the packaging. This is true of random weight packaged items (meat and deli products) and standard weight packaged items (ie: canned goods, snacks, juices, etc.). In 2013, 12 lots representing 845 random packed items were checked resulting in one lot of 24 packages ordered off sale. This is equivalent to a 97.2 % accuracy rate for stores in Carroll County when it comes to weighing commodities.

Additionally, price verification inspections are conducted in stores that utilize scanning systems at the checkouts. Prices stored in the computer must match the posted or advertised price of the product for sale.  In 2013, 24 establishments were checked with 18 passing and 6 failing the initial inspection. Follow up inspections were made until the 6 failing stores received passing marks. In order to pass, a 98% accuracy in price matching between the stored price and the posted price is required. In total, there were 975 prices verified with 11 price over-charges and 13 price under-charges. All pricing errors were corrected at the time of inspection.

If there are any questions or complaints regarding the accuracy of any weighing or measuring device or questions on packaging and pricing, contact Tom Konst, W&M Inspector at the Carroll County Auditor’s office, 330-627-2096.

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