When you exchange your hard-earned cash for groceries to stock your fridge or gas for your car, you want to ensure you are getting what you’re paying for. Most consumers aren’t aware of it, but the Nebraska Department of Agriculture’s (NDA) Food Safety and Consumer Protection Focus Area’s Weights and Measures program exists to make sure that happens.
Every year, Weights and Measures inspectors check more than 38,600 commercial weighing and measuring devices. These can include a variety of scales, ranging from those used to weigh grain and livestock trucks to those in grocery stores used for weighing meat and produce. They even check the accuracy of scales used in jewelry stores when purchasing precious metals.
These devices also include meters such as those on gas station pumps or the ones used to measure the amount of ethanol being loaded on a railroad car.
“The whole purpose of checking these weighing and measuring devices is to make sure customers are getting the value they’re expecting for the money they’re paying,” says Ken Tichota, Focus Area administrator. “For example, at a grocery store when you buy a pound of hamburger, you don’t want to pay for the weight that could be added by labels, plastic wrap or soaker pads. That’s why our inspectors verify that the net contents of the package match the label.”
Tichota added that they also inspect the weights of a variety of other commodities. These can include food items such as dairy products and fruit drinks as well as bagged items such livestock feed, pet food and agriculture seeds.
The Weights and Measures program has a total of 15 field inspectors who travel throughout Nebraska to verify the accuracy of weighing and measuring devices used by businesses in every community in the state. That’s a lot of inspections. Meanwhile, 19 percent of the inspectors’ time each year is spent testing meters on gas pumps to make sure they are accurately dispensing fuel.
“In a given year we might reject 10 to 12 percent of the pumps we inspect across the state for not being accurate,” Tichota says.
When a pump is rejected it is tagged for repair before it can be used again.
“The Weights and Measures program is like a third person. When you make a purchase, you think the transaction is only between you and the vendor,” Tichota says. “It often surprises consumers to learn there’s a third party participating to protect both buyer and seller. Weights and Measures officials work to save customers money and to safeguard vendors’ businesses.”
Accuracy is Insurance Against Economic Loss
Even small errors can have a big impact. If all of the 38,600 devices that are inspected annually were off just one-tenth of one percent, it would create a $57 million economic impact.
“We feel we’re very economical insurance,” added Tichota, “With 1.9 million people in Nebraska, the Weights and Measures program only costs each resident an estimated $1.09 per year.”
Tichota is passionate about the work he does, having spent 30 years as a field inspector before becoming an administrator.
“When I was out in the field inspecting at a grocery store, for example, and I watched a family struggle to pay for their groceries with coupons or an elderly couple shop on a fixed income, it was rewarding to know I was helping make sure they were getting exactly what they paid for,” he says.