Screenshot: The Simpsons

Like many people who work in an office, we here at Onion Inc. use Slack frequently, for everything from “where in the hell is that article?” (using nicer language), to vote on what we should get for lunch for the weekly staff meeting. (Also, to track cute dog Instagrams and various Mueller investigation updates.) Occasionally, though, our Slack threads go a bit awry, which is what happened last week, to the tune of dozens of messages, thousands of words, and a few valuable hours of worktime.

I honestly don’t know if our office has ever gotten so worked up about anything en masse as it did by this question from Social Media Manager Meg Brett, based on a discussion she was having with her roommate the night before:

While many staffers were quick to jump in with “What? No, never” and “Gross,” Social Media Coordinator Julia Nelson piped up, “Wait what? I always try the grapes and the blueberries. How else will I know if it’s good?”

This simple statement divided the staff almost completely on a binary level, creating a giant barrier between the tasters and the non-tasters, with little middle ground. Julia led the charge for tasting in-store, with her detractors arguing that the practice was either unsanitary or unethical (or possibly both):

Julia Nelson: i cant tell if a grape is sour with my eyes

Laura Adamczyk: that is the chance you take

Julia Nelson: no that is the chance you take
i cant afford that

Laura M. Browning: what if every person tried one grape
there would be no grapes to sell

Katie Rife: eating one unwashed grape won’t hurt you
relax

Julia Nelson: thank you
i like to think it builds my immune system

Laura M. Browning: right but what about the grape theft, why are we all ignoring the grape theft

Baraka Kaseko: i look at the bottom of the bag to see how many have fallen off
gives you a good idea how many of the grapes are ripe

Alex McLevy: “how will i know if the Tombstone pizza is still good unless i break off a slice and cook it up in the aisle?”

Julia Nelson: if that means having good grapes every time i buy them, I’m fine with it

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The A.V. Club Deputy Managing Editor Caitlin PenzeyMoog then contacted her mother for some grape-selection information, who offered: “You can gently touch them to see if they are firm, though color, gloss level, and stem attachment generally tell you the quality. A truly sour grape would be quite hard, smaller, or rounder than usual and have a whiteness under the green skin. The pit or bit of browning by the stem attachment and a too-yellow color indicates the grape is too soft and overripe before it even starts to go brown.” Good advice, but Julia still seemed less than convinced, even though staffers like Internet Culture Editor Clayton Purdom offered other suggestions, like “You could return them. You could buy a new bag from the store. You could try a new store,” all of which seemed more troublesome to Julia than a simple in-store taste test. Also, “You could eat them.”

Other staffers fervently cautioned against the norovirus and staph infections that could possibly be transmitted via the eating of unwashed, public food. I asked a friend who’s a public health authority, who cautioned, “Eating unwashed produce is a no good, terrible idea. You wouldn’t do it with other produce, would you? Other than the usual suspects (salmonella, E. coli) possibly hanging out on said produce, you don’t know who else has ‘sampled’ previously. It would be the equivalent of licking a doorknob.”

Executive Editor Laura M. Browning then took to Twitter to poll the masses, resulting in thousands of votes, with the vast majority saying that they do not taste in-house (sorry, Julia).

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That poll then brought up other questions, like just how unsanitary are the grapes you get at the store? If people like Julia are fondling all the grapes, how do you make sure they’re not now bacteria-infested?

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Caitlin PenzeyMoog’s advice is that you shouldn’t rinse your produce before putting it away/in the fridge, only before you eat it, because “wetness increases it spoiling and stuff can be in the water… and for god’s sakes don’t leave cut fruit sitting out for more than two hours.”

This led to Julia’s next question:

Julia Nelson: or say a pizza you left out all night that you eat when ur hungover the next morning

Baraka Kaseko: oh… julia

Alex McLevy: oh god julia

Julia Nelson: guys im fine

I was so curious about the huge debate this question ignited, I went to visit some in-store produce managers to see what their thoughts were. I hit a trifecta around my neighborhood: a neighborhood grocer, a medium-size chain supermarket, and a fancy chain.

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Not sure how I’m going to break this to Julia’s detractors, but every produce person I talked to shrugged off grape and other pre-purchase fruit-tasting like it was no big deal. Nobody had ever said to a customer, “Hey man, no free samples.” The neighborhood guys considered it common practice, while the medium chain said not with blueberries, but definitely grapes. I asked him, “What if they taste a grape and they don’t even buy that bag?” He said, “Oohhh, yeah. That happens.”

The fancy store guy told me that tasting is even encouraged. “I had a manager once tell me, like if somebody asks about a certain apple, you can cut off a slice and say, ‘I’ll try it with you.’” He says the worst fruit-tasting culprits are cherry fans, because people spit the pits right back into the bag. Hopefully the one they’re planning on purchasing.

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I was so intrigued by all of this, that before I left the last store, I spied an open bag of green grapes. Carefully selecting a grape that was a good distance away from the other ones, I pulled it out. I ate it. It was a little gritty (because it was dirty, duh), but otherwise tasted fine. I looked around fervently, to see if I was now the object of scorn from my fellow shoppers, but no one seemed to notice, not even the guy I had just talked to. I felt a little guilty, and hope I don’t get sick, but hey—free grape.