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Say for the sake of argument that I have some old shrink-wrapped spaghetti packets lying around, and I'm not a huge fan of the brand. I'd like to get rid of the spaghetti somehow, but I don't want to throw it away (what a waste of food!), and I don't have a good place to put it, or a nearby food pantry willing to accept it.

Also assume that the food is not expired, that I have not tampered with it, that it is in good condition, and that it is roughly equivalent quality to the stuff on the shelf, bar age. Also assume I have documented its storage thoroughly, as one naturally does with one's pantry. If anyone were to get sick from eating this food, it is extremely implausible that it is my fault. Spaghetti is a dry good and I have handled it well.

Suppose I were to take the spaghetti into a store, non-disruptively place it on the shelf alongside an equivalent product that is still being manufactured, and leave. Have I personally violated a law? If so, what crime have I committed?

In principle, only the store stands to benefit from this exchange. I've given them back a product that they can sell a second time - it's a paltry sum, but it's certainly not costing them anything atypical. They might not be especially thrilled about my actions, but in this hypothetical I am the kind of person who would return purchased produce directly to a grocery store, so let's assume I don't care too much about that.


I do also feel the need to state I would not actually do this, and I don't at all condone it. I'm asking this question out of curiosity for how a public health situation like this would be managed legally (and in practice).

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    If the store management is not "especially thrilled about your actions", they could bar you from the store; and if you tried to pull the stunt again after that, you would be trespassing. But that's more of a second-order effect (and so not really an answer.) Jan 21, 2022 at 21:23
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    @bdb484 Meant that as a way to say: assume I am able to document adequately that I didn't mishandle it while I had it. But put a small joke in. (Please feel free to edit if the small joke is making it less clear.)
    – Slate
    Jan 21, 2022 at 22:13
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    "Also assume that the food is not expired, that I have not tampered with it" You know you haven't tampered with it, but how does anybody else?
    – Ron Beyer
    Jan 21, 2022 at 22:29
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    Just going to chime in as a retail worker- please don't do this. Donate to a food bank or shelter instead.
    – user40839
    Jan 22, 2022 at 7:42
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    Alternative titles for this question; "How can I best cause a state-wide panic that food has been tampered with?" Or "I enjoy visits from the police, is this a good way to make that happen?"
    – Richard
    Jan 22, 2022 at 12:39

2 Answers 2

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Have I personally violated a law? If so, what crime have I committed?

You may or may not have committed a crime. Some possible crimes are (1) stocking a grocery store without a public health license, (2) littering/dumping of things on private property without permission, and (3) making a non-verbal hoax threat.

You have also almost definitely committed the tort of trespass, by leaving something on the property of another without their permission.

You might also have committed a tortious interference with business opportunity tort.

Also, while we usually think of a gift as a unilateral thing, the law conceives of a gift as something that requires the assent of both the donor and the donee to be effective.

In principle, only the store stands to benefit from this exchange. I've given them back a product that they can sell a second time - it's a paltry sum, but it's certainly not costing them anything atypical.

This is probably not true.

The store is quite likely to incur substantial costs from your action, if it is discovered, because even though it is actually untampered with food, the store doesn't know that and can't prove that. It would have to throw away the food if it discovered it, and if it can't distinguish the returned food from the existing inventory it would probably have to destroy all of it, because it isn't good enough that food is not tampered with, the store needs to know what it is untampered with to lawfully sell it.

Short of that, it would at a minimum, screw up their inventory accounting and that would be much more expensive to resolve than any gain that they receive from the transaction.

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    Tort trespass was my first idea and transfer of ownership does need privity the opposite would mean anyone can be imposed the duty of owing and be responsible for things they otherwise never would choose to be which in this case can have the adverse affects like those listed in this answer.
    – kisspuska
    Jan 22, 2022 at 5:08
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In most states it is considered criminal trespass to leave things at the donation site of a charity shop (such as Goodwill) outside their published donation hours; these laws were enacted as the flood of dumped unsaleable merchandise was making significant extra work for them.

I imagine such laws would apply in this situation, and even more so, as the "donated" stock is irretrievably mixed with the existing stock, and likely makes it unsaleable as well.

See for example https://www.reddit.com/r/legaladvice/s/BfPU5BO3He

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