Whole Foods Kitsilano: Spoiled food?

I’ve been shopping at Whole Foods Kitsilano for the last three years. Not for the bulk of my family’s groceries. But for the fun extras and the special meals. You know, organic steak, Ocean Wise fish, prepared foods, a power cookie or two… I recognize the staff. I small talk in line. I’m usually happy about the experience. But in the last two months, I’ve purchased spoiled food four times.

Three out of the four times, it was prepared food items from the deli case – green bean and almond salad, butternut squash salad, etc. Yesterday, I purchased two big, fat Opah tuna steaks for a celebratory dinner only to bring them home and find that they were spoiled, although the expiry date on the package was days away.

Whole Foods is always polite when my husband or I calls to let them know. They refund the money. They express concern. They might even ask me if I want to talk to the deli manager. (I don’t; Can’t they just do their job?) Yet the celebratory dinner was ruined. I have to go back to the store and wait for the refund. Then there’s the whole nasty possibility of food poisoning. You know. I expect more.

My question to readers: Has this happened to you at the Kitsilano Whole Foods recently?

Whole Foods, 2285 West 4th Avenue, 604.739.6676

Photo credit: Whole Foods

31 Responses to “Whole Foods Kitsilano: Spoiled food?”

  1. Juls says:

    Wow that really sucks. When you pay extra to eat you expect perfection. I suggest you take it to the top and talk to the store manager and the deli manager. I would want answers if my fancy dinner was ruined.

  2. Kitsneighbour says:

    Funny you write this- I thought maybe I was the only one. We too enjoy shopping at Whole Foods. Can’t beat the quality of the produce especially. In saying that, we’ve purchased three items from the deli and ready-made section that have made us sick. It was the deli sliced turkey, quinoa salad and a green salad (the one with craisins, blue cheese, candied walnuts). My husband and I were severely sick with what the doctor narrowed down to food poisoning. After the third incident I decided to write in and Tom phoned me back pretty soon after. It was basically my word against his about what really made us sick. He insisted that the workers take the food safety course and there’s no way that his employees had anything to do with less-than-par food handling. I’m sure anyone who has worked at a deli has some horror stories with how food is handled. (IE left out of the case, dropped, hand washing, etc) I’m sure his employees have all taken the course but that doesn’t mean they follow all the rules. Needless to say, we stay away from the deli and ready-made section now and stick to the dry goods and produce. I wasn’t looking for compensation from Tom but there was still no other customer service offered. Oh he did say come see me sometime and he’d show me around and how clean it is….

  3. June says:

    Me too! Twice, I’ve purchased their fresh-made guacamole and it’s been spoiled but yet the expiration date was at least a few days away.

  4. KitsBorn&Raised says:

    Funny, I haven’t had anything spoiled, exactly, but I’ve found the quality of their pre-made wraps to have gone downhill the last few times I’ve bought them. My fave was always the salmon one and it had this weird goo in it (like the mayo separated or something) and it was completely gross. I brought it back and I got a refund, but the woman at the counter just kind of shrugged it off saying it was just mayo. (I’ve never seen mayo look like that before!)

  5. PW says:

    I can’t comment on the deli items bought and packaged in front of you at the deli but many times “bad” customers take stuff and then randomly decide they don’t want it and leave it wherever (yogurt, meat, fish, deli meat etc etc perishables) then a “good” customer will come along and put it back where it goes or bring it to a staff member who determines based on usually their own judgement and not store policy if it goes back on the shelf and usually this is where the spoilage comes from – if something has been sitting under a lighting fixture for an hour or two it might not only be ruined but it can warm up the product around it when someone returns it to the cooler. I don’t work in a grocery store but I see instances like this almost every time I shop from the Whole Foods/Choices/Stongs type of stores, neighbourhood independents and mass grocers like Superstore. As for the deli itself if all of these incidents including the ones in the comments have happened at the same location it might be time for a health inspection call – I’d guess that the temperature is off in the compartment causing a variety of issues.

  6. Mojo says:

    It has happened to me three times over the past month. For two years before that: never a problem. Twice I got foul/rotten prepared salads from the deli counter, and the last time I bought rancid tuna. Luckily I discovered it before eating it and serving it to my wife. We could have gotten really sick.

    A refund and a bad attitude does not make up for it. Three ruined evenings, and it could easily have been worse!

    Wholefoods needs to clean up their act.

  7. Evan says:

    No. But I have been having this happen at the Apple Market across the street a lot. I’ve purchased produce and tofu and brought it home to find it is already rotten. Or, it will go rotten the next day. I love the idea of supporting local fruit/veggie stores, but not if the quality pales in comparison to Safeway.

  8. Juls says:

    OK, so which one of us is going to call the health inspectors in???

  9. Whole Foods Market Kitsilano says:

    Hi Taraneh. This is Tom from Whole Foods. I’m the Store Team Leader for the Kitsilano store. First, thank you for shopping with us for the past three years. I’m very sorry to hear that something you bought from us derailed a special dinner.

    We think it’s important to set the record straight about our food safety standards because the health of our customers is a matter of the highest priority for us. When you shop with us, know that every one of our team members – even those who don’t handle food – have been trained in food handling and safety procedures. We use independent, third-party inspectors who perform regular audits to assess food handling and safety procedures in each department of every store. We have a strong and fully transparent relationship with Vancouver Coastal Health.

    I’ve shared your concern with both our Seafood department and our Prepared Foods team. We want to emphasize that everything in our seafood case adheres to our strict quality standards, which are the highest in the industry. And, when it comes to our deli and prepared food items, such as the butternut squash salad, we make these dishes in-house daily – sometimes twice a day. We physically walk the stores every 2 hours to monitor the kitchen, the refrigerated cases and prep areas to make sure things are in compliance with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and our strict standards.

    We don’t take any chances with our customers’ health, and I invite you to join me sometime soon to walk the store learn more about the practices we have in place.

    If you have any questions, please reach out to me or any of our Store Team Leaders. We welcome the chance to talk more.

    Thank you.
    Tom 604-739-6676

  10. Kits Food says:

    This is a common problem at all grocery stores. Many years ago they stopped putting the prepared on date on the label. They only put the expiry date. You never know when the food was prepared and how fresh it is. Most the time, the food has been sitting there for several days. So disgusting. They don’t want you to pick the freshest products. They know that if they put the prepared on date, the older stuff will not sell. If doesn’t sell then they make too much. This trend it all shops now. It is too bad. That Tom guy in Wholefoods is an idiot.

  11. Mojo says:

    Reply to TOM of Wholefoods:

    I am not sure when you graduated in Public Relations 101, but here’s a quick update: Generally, it is not wise to be arrogant (try to be humble and understanding), and more specifically: it usually is not wise to say to the customer: you are always wrong (in fact the opposite is close to a truism in the business).

    Question: so if your standards are all so great, and your ingredients are all so fresh – how come there are many customers on this very blog who had purchased food gone bad from your store? Rancid Fish. Rotten Salads and expired sauces – causing food poisoning and displeasure in the community. Explain yourself.

  12. New in Kits says:

    I love running into Whole Foods to grab lunch or supper from the deli, but like another commenter, I thought maybe picking up bad packaged food was just a random thing. In the past six weeks, I’ve gotten a spoiled smoked mozarella and penne salad and a spoiled guacamole.

    I called–don’t know who I spoke with–but the person was rude and pretty much told me I must not have taken proper care of the food. Considering the purchases were for instant consumption–that definitely wasn’t the case. In any event, I didn’t return the items–they were not expensive, I figured this was a one-shot deal, and I didn’t want to deal with hostility.

    Apparently it wasn’t and apparently justification on the part of the Kits Whole Foods wasn’t a fluke either. It really doesn’t matter how much or how vehemently store managers talk about high standards. If people are buying spoiled food, something’s broken and needs fixing, and denial is really bad public relations.

  13. Debra says:

    I bought a cranberry coffee cake from them a couple of weeks ago. I went to eat it two days later (ahead of the so-called expiry date) and there were blue spots on it. My first thought was not realizing there were blueberries in it.
    Upon closer inspection, I saw that it was mold. I was totally disgusted! I could see if it happened in the summer maybe, but now?
    I took it back to Whole Foods an hour later and they said that I could replace it with something else. The cashier sort of acted like it could somehow be my fault, like I didn’t store it properly or something?
    The positives outweight the negatives so I will return, but seriously, they need to think about customer service.

  14. Kitsneighbour says:

    So to summarize, Tom, it was all our fault the food was spoiled and had absolutely nothing to do with the food handling in your store? If I remember correctly, what you just wrote was verbatim what you told me over the phone. You literally scoffed at the notion that someone was to blame there (or at least take some responsibility). It was entirely my fault and the way I apparently “handled” it after I purchased it. There was no convincing you that there was something not right about the product you’re selling and how your employees are handling it.

    You lack serious customer service and professionalism. Inviting us to “walk the floors” with you does not change the fact many of us have purchased spoiled items. Plain and simple and definitely not coincidental.

    I’m sure if this article was posted on a bigger forum there could quite possibly be more people coming forward with complaints. Like the previous wrote, please explain to us how all our food could be off.

  15. Jack says:

    So, I bought some salad here too that wasn’t the freshest. And returned it. But guess what? It happens at Safeway. It happens at Cambie WF. Superstore. Save-on.
    At least with WF they let you return pretty much anything.
    And seriously, if people don’t like shopping for their tuna steaks because of freshness, stop whining and just shop somewhere else

  16. Phil says:

    I agree with Jack – in so far as this is a problem one can encounter in any grocery chain. However, I’m all for “whining” – complaints help a store focus and improve it’s services. And stores pay attention, as evidenced by Tom’s investment in this thread. Due to this article, and the discussion it’s sparked, it’s likely more attention will be brought to this issue in store.

    Complaining is certainly not an obligation, but shielding your local business from criticism ensures that it’s likely the problem will not be addressed, or if it is, much more slowly. I wonder why more companies don’t create greater incentives for inviting customer feedback.

  17. Bill Barilko says:

    I’ve been a customer @ what is now called WF since the day ‘Capers’ opened back in another century.

    I purchased deli food exactly once and would never repeat that sorry experience.

    Anyone who’s worked retail can see the turnover @ WF-it’s a revolving door with most people lasting less than three months- staff are treated like something dirty on a shoe-small wonder standards are low and management is arrogant & in denial.

    Now I’ll buy an occasional breakfast muffin or bread that’s from another bakery but that’s about it-the place is a typical corporation-profits are everything lies & smarm are lavished on customers and managers hate themselves/the place they slave in.

  18. Christopher says:

    I am a regular shopper at Capers/Wholefoods for many years now, and I have gotten to know the store and its older staffs somewhat. I think I can answer some of the questions and criticisms that Tom probably cannot answer (without being fired).

    Wholefood is no different from any other corporations. It is profit driven and is under pressure to meet/beat it’s earning while slashing costs each quarter. The staffs often have their hours cut, and the management has to squeeze blood from stone. It should not be surprising that everyone is having problem with the deli, which is the most labour intensive and has the smallest margin. The deli has a revolving door with new staffs every three months, and there is a gradual decline in the quality of their service.

    This is a pretty common problem for any large food services. This problem will continue to escalade until something terrible happens, like mass food poisoning. The media comes down on company and a couple innocent people in management get fired. Then, the guys on top of the management totem pole will ease the budget to fix PR, until the whole thing blows over. Then the cycle begins again.

    Yeah, the deli food was definitely better when it was Capers.

    Tom is actually pretty nice guy. I think its impressive that a store manager are often seen bustling on the floor piling things or fixing signs. But have you meet the guy running the deli? I once saw him having a screaming match with a customer right in the store. He can’t possibly be good to work with.

  19. Jim says:

    The manager actually took the time to try and answer the complaints and extended a hand to address the issue further in-store or by phone.

    Seems like people should just start voting with their wallets instead of going back time and time again to the same deli that has disappointed them time and time again. Kind of a no-brainer.

    I had two terrible experiences there, both time with chicken being rancid. I just stopped buying chicken there. Both times my money was refunded, and the manager (Barney, I think) was very helpful and understanding. I guess not being a self-entitled Kits brat makes me more appreciative of the lengths the management went to in order help me.

  20. rundrd says:

    ^this.

  21. Cara says:

    I think what the jist of the issue is- when you pay a premium (a hell of a lot more expensive than Safeway), your expectations are much higher. You expect quality food without complications. Guess it goes to show that WF is no better, no less, than the standard Safeway, IGA, Superstore.

  22. Maureen says:

    Wow! I must be one of the lucky ones. I shop every week (sometimes twice a week) at Capers/WF for over fifteen years and have never had any issues. And yes I buy the prepared foods and bakery. Why does it happen to someone four times? Maybe it’s the days shopped or time of day???

    I do have to watch the expiry dates on bakery items as they can be close or past expiry but I do that everywhere I go.

    I’m not sure why some expect a large corporate company to be that different than another. Retailers have staff turnover issues, budgets to meet while trying to keep standards high. It’s always a challenge and as someone said here, if there are issues for you with certain items, it’s fair to let the store know, expect respect and choose whether to continue purchasing there. Whether its what you wanted to hear or not, there was attempt to address the issues here where most would have not.

    I’m ecstatic that organic has/is becoming mainstream so that more of us can afford it. Like any store, do your research on products and prices and shop with your wallet. There are some bakery items from the Capers days that I just don’t buy anymore because the price went up too much. I for one will continue to shop there. It’s great to have the organic option at my doorstep and that’s worth something.

  23. Alan says:

    I shop weekly at Whole Foods though do not regularly buy from the deli counter. I appreciate that Tom took the time to reply to the comments on this blog but, like others, am unsettled by the way he has responded. This response gives me less confidence in the WF, not more.

    It is good to know that WF has strong food-safety practices and monitoring procedures in place. But no system is perfect and no group of employees — especially when turnover is high — can be counted on to follow those practices all the time. So, when confronted with numerous accounts of spoiled food or illness, the conscientious and confidence-inspiring response not to say, “We’re doing all we can.” It’s to say, “I’m glad you told us. We’ll look into it.”

    Consider the fact that these are only the comments of those who a.) happened to read this blogpost in the last few days and b.) took the time to write a comment. And these comments mostly refer to problems in the last couple of months. If WF is serious about food safety, that should be taken as a sign that something may not be working as it should. Tom’s response sounds instead like complacency.

  24. Erin says:

    I’ve shopped at Whole Foods Kits from the beginning, back when it was Capers. I’m there at least once a week and have only once had an issue with a product. I brought it back, they refunded my money and that was that.

    Food, without preservatives goes off and does not have the lengthy shelf dates that foods found at other grocery stores might have.

    If and when I buy meat/fish from a counter I always ask when it came in and if I can smell it. I’m not going to but a melon without smelling it to see if it is fresh and ripe, why wouldn’t you do that for meat/fish.
    What were you expecting Whole Foods to do for you, other than refund your money?

    And this remark: They might even ask me if I want to talk to the deli manager. (I don’t; Can’t they just do their job?)

    If you can’t take the time to discuss your issues with the deli manager, what on earth is the point in complaining. If you have issues, follow through on them and discuss your concerns with the appropriate people.

    Your post is so tiresome and self serving.

  25. Kitso says:

    Yes, Erin. How self serving to ask a reader community about an apparently quite real, local health hazard.

    The blog should have gone out of its way to protect a big box corporation.

    What are we expecting Whole Foods to do? Serve safe food, without needing a heart to heart discussion with a negligent deli manager.

  26. Taraneh says:

    Thanks for sharing your experiences. As a result, we’ve learned a great deal about:

    1) How often this happens at Whole Foods
    2) Why it happens

    I agree: purchasing spoiled food four times from the same place makes me a slow learner. It demonstrates my misplaced faith in a brand.

    It’s now up to readers to vote with their wallets based on everyone’s input, including the feedback from Whole Foods Kits.

  27. Dan says:

    Anthony, who contributes to the site, pointed me to this article after I made a comment about my own experience with spoiled food gone bad from Whole Foods (albeit at the West Vancouver store.)

    Of the purchases made that day, the fresh pork side was rancid. My mom smelled it as I was unpacking the grocery. The next night when I wanted to prepare a jam compote – I found the fresh raspberries and blackberries had mold on it. All in all – I lost about $15 worth of food.

    I didn’t go back to the store for refund, since I didn’t want to have to cart around spoiled food back to the store and I realize that it’s common issue among the grocery business. But, considering that they do charge a premium, to have it happen is frustrating.

    I think the point that surprised me from reading the post and comments is the sudden decrease in quality control at Whole Foods. Seems like this is a recent development. Makes me wonder if something is going on and if this is a system wide problem, affecting more than one store.

  28. Night says:

    I get annoyed with Whole Foods sometimes, it’s hard not too when it’s so expensive to eat good organic food. And I know that fresh food can spoil but I love that Whole Foods will return things so easily. I love that I can make a different choice and shop elsewhere too. But I’m so grateful that we have a natural food store in our community, so conveniently situated too. The store is colourful and bright and much of the food is alive and vibrating. I suppose all deli departments have a tough time. And a store’s customer service department is so important, maybe they’ve slipped a little. Give them direct feedback people, they will notice.

  29. Moogs says:

    I can only imagine the response I’m going to get for my 2 cents’ worth. But after a decade-long sojourn in Japan, where a huge industry has built up around prepared foods (usually sold on the food floors of huge department stores) and noting how religiously the Japanese observe “Use By” dates and keep germs at bay, I have to admit we here in the West have a rather cavalier attitude towards food handling – as CONSUMERS. The times I see people eat their food without washing or sanitizing their hands, or leave cooked foods out overnight without refrigeration makes me shudder.

    For those on here whom this happens to more than once, try experimenting with how you handle the food after taking it away from the store and see if it makes a difference.

  30. Moogs says:

    And I didn’t think Tom’s response was out of line at all. Some very sensitive people on this forum.

  31. Clara says:

    The food at WF may have gone bad due to bad management or consumer handling. We won’t know for sure until an audit is done. But I am surprised to see that no one is seriously concerned for the health of the consumers.

    A lot of the people with the unfortunate issues claim they abide by the expiry date. Let’s move on without questioning this. The consumer, of any small or major corporation, expects to receive SAFE products that have been inspected and quality assured by the selling body. That’s why we pay for it. And that’s why we have laws and auditing bodies such as Health Canada or private companies.

    Major corporations, usually, prepare for these situations. Meeting up to the consumers’ expectation of the food being fresh within the expiry date is their priority and, quite honestly, their purpose. If a company cannot meet these expectations, why would they expect anyone to shop there? Foreseeing the consumers’ handling of food is also their obligation. Like Tom has mentioned, health of the public should be their priority and all of their new staff are trained to uphold this importance. So Tom must know that the general public most likely lacks this training in safe food keeping. Here is when the disclaimers and the earlier than necessary expiry dates come in. Preparing and preventing situations that may hurt both the consumer and the company. A product should not be something that is sold and be done with.

    The money we pay pays for the extra quality assurance as well as the quality of the product. A brand name is trusted because of its reliability. Bad things could happen and you could have gotten food poisoning. Some of you might say “quit complaining and shop somewhere else.” I highly doubt if even one food poisoning experience had happened to those people. Then again, some of you might mention one should always inspect food before consuming, and if you’re being smart you should be able to avoid getting sick. What if it was your child? What if he or she came home from school one day, looking through the fridge because they were hungry and ate the spoiled food because they didn’t know what to look for? Food poisoning in young children or to anybody can be serious. At that point, no amount of compensation will satisfy.

    Overall, WF is known for its local fresh foods without preservatives. It is not up to the consumers to protect themselves by playing lottery with the prepackaged food or to receive food training to protect themselves. It is WF’s responsibility to take on the consumer’s safety beyond what other companies do because it was THEIR decision to take on fresh food WITHOUT preservatives. The financial or managing infrastructure should not be a factor or a reason for consumers to understand and be considerate about. WF needs to keep up with the highly competitive market out there. To me, it seems they’ve just given other natural food stores a gap in the market to jump in and take over. Perhaps this would be the best. Out with the old and broken, and in with the new and efficient.