You've seen it done, heck, you might have even done it yourself...but is it legal to do before paying at the grocery store in Indiana?

It's not often that you see it happen when you're at the store, but every now and then you will see someone pick up some chips, open the bag, and start eating them before they check out. Most commonly, you'll see a parent give in to their hungry child and let them much on something that they just grabbed from the shelf, just to keep them happy.

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Actually, just the other morning, we were at the grocery store and my girlfriend grabbed one of her favorite energy drinks. Before she put it in the cart she told me that she was thirsty and could really use the energy before dropping way too much money at checkout. She then asked me if she was allowed to drink it before she buys it...you know...like I all of the sudden make the rules around here. I told her that as long as she scans the can at checkout she should be okay. But the whole time we were shopping, I was wondering if eating food (or drinking a soda) at the grocery store before you pay for it is illegal. So for those like me, who might not know for sure, I decided to do some digging.

Recently, we've been diving into all kinds of different laws here in Indiana.

For example: is it illegal to drive with your dome lights on in Indiana?

Or for you love birds out there, is it illegal to get it on in your car in Indiana?

Speaking of cars... is it illegal to warm your car up in Indiana or is it even illegal to eat while driving in Indiana?

All of which, are valid questions that you might have found yourself wondering a time or two. Just like with the case of eating food before you buy it at the grocery store.

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Is it Illegal to Eat Before Paying at the Grocery Store in Indiana?

Well, according to Find Law, the answer to the question is...it kind of depends. It's not illegal to snack on something at the grocery store if you eventually buy the product. If you just toss the snack aside after eating it and don't pay for it, that's shoplifting. Which is definitely illegal in Indiana.

Young male thief putting fruit into inside pocket in food store
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However, every store is different. Grocery stores generally have discretion (called the shopkeeper's privilege) when it comes to people who they suspect of shoplifting. If one shop prohibits eating before paying, that is their prerogative and they can tell you to stop, or even leave. And because of that, the determination can fall into a legal gray area.

That being said, Find Law does specify that the type of food you are snacking on before buying does matter.

Something sold at a fixed price, like a bag of chips, may be more acceptable. So a customer who snacks while shopping, but eventually pays for it at the checkout, likely won't have to deal with any legal consequences.

However, items that are priced by weight -- like produce, candies, and dried goods, for example -- may pose more of a concern. You're legally obligated to pay for however much you took from the store. So if you don't pay for what you've already eaten, then technically you've stolen it.

Still, if no store employee, loss-prevention officer, or cashier calls you out on your unauthorized (and unpaid-for) snacking, you probably won't be prosecuted. You'll just have to deal with the guilt of knowing what you've done.

So there you have it. If you do snack while shopping and eventually pay for it, you should be alright. Just keep in mind that if the store manager asks you to stop or immediately pay for it, you should definitely do what they ask...especially if you love shopping at said store.

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