Are you getting what you pay for? State struggles to keep scales in check

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When pumping gas or buying produce at the grocery stores, do you trust that you’re getting what you paid for?

It’s the state’s job to make sure businesses are giving you exactly what you pay for, down to the ounce, but getting that job done is a challenge.

In 2013, a state audit revealed revealed less than seven percent of gas pumps were inspected between 2010 and 2012. Smaller scales, like the ones found in grocery stores, were at less than three percent.

At the time, the state Department of Agriculture, which is in charge of monitoring the scales, said the problem was it only had two inspectors.

Fast forward to now, and we found out staffing is still lacking with just four inspectors.

So what’s being done now to make sure we get what we pay for?

Lots of people will be traveling over the summer and airlines are very strict, charging penalty fees if your luggage weighs more than a certain amount, usually 50 pounds.

Here in Hawaii, the airlines own the scales. A private-public partnership makes sure they’re accurate.

“They’ll bring in a service provider that works specifically on the airlines’ scales,” explained Scott Enright, Department of Agriculture chair.

There only four inspectors with the department’s Measurement Standards Branch. They’re in charge of making sure the airport scales are accurate, as well as gas pumps, grocery store scales, and taxi meters.

The Department of Agriculture says last year, 2,433 taxi meters were inspected across the state, with 4.6 percent, or a little more than a hundred taxi meters, found out of tolerance and needed to be adjusted.

“As long as I’ve been part of the Hawaii Department of Agriculture, which is over the last four years, we haven’t found any of the scales to be out of tolerance maliciously,” Enright said. “It’s just a matter of scales will get out of tolerance, so it’s managing to keep them in tolerance.”

“What about the scales in the grocery store? How do I know if I’m buying one pound of oranges, I’m really getting one pound?” KHON2 asked.

“Well, there are companies like Foodland that want to make sure their scales are where they should be, and they have their own group that goes in and checks those scales, and they have service providers that come behind and make sure the calibration is correct,” Enright replied.

While the inspectors do random checks, they’re also dispatched to follow up on complaints.

“We’ve gotten 14 complaints in the last fiscal year,” Enright said. “Of the 14, we found four of the devices were out of tolerance” and “for the most part, they were produce scales.”

In addition to its four inspectors, the Measurement Standards Branch wants to hire five more employees to be fully efficient.

“What’s stopping you from hiring those five extra people that you need for this branch?” KHON2 asked.

“It needs to be looked at in context,” Enright said. “In the last economic downturn, the Hawaii Department of Agriculture lost 40 percent of its workers, so as we hire, we have to look across all the different needs that we have, whether it’s our plant quarantine inspectors or pesticide inspectors or entomologists, and we have to prioritize what our needs are.”

Unfortunately, it appears the branch will only get funding for four new hires. One of those vacant positions was taken away by lawmakers this session.

With a shortage of inspectors, it’s sometimes up to you, the consumer to be on alert.

So what can you do if you think you’re being over charged? Ask for your items to be weighed on another scale. You can also call or email the Department of Agriculture to file a complaint.

If an inspector determines that the scale is off, you can request a refund from the business for the amount you overpaid.

To register a complaint with the Hawaii Department of Agriculture’s Measurement Standards Branch, you can call (808) 832-0690 or send your complaint to 1851 Auiki Street, Honolulu, HI, 96819.

Click here for more information.

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