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David McNew/Getty Images

9 Secrets of Whole Foods Employees

David McNew/Getty Images
David McNew/Getty Images

With 474 stores across the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom, Whole Foods has cornered the market on organic, high-end groceries. And while the company is currently undergoing changes (such as lowering prices on many items) due to Amazon’s recent acquisition, we got the 411 on what it’s like to work there now. Here’s an inside look at how employees feel about the store’s high prices, why they can’t do much about shoplifters, and what they really do with damaged fruit.

1. THEY HAVE MIXED FEELINGS ABOUT THE STORE’S PRICES.

Many items at Whole Foods cost more than at other grocery stores, and the company’s “whole paycheck” nickname has some truth to it. While some team members defend the store’s notoriously high prices, others admit that they can’t afford to shop there. As Whole Foods Culinary Content Editor Molly Siegler explains to PopSugar, the store has high standards. “We have a whole team that’s dedicated to using science and really heavy research to figure out what can and can't be in our stores,” she says. “At a minimum, we have no artificial colors, no artificial preservatives, no artificial sweeteners, and no hydrogenated fats. Every single thing in our stores meets those standards, and often people don't realize that.” Whole Foods also lets customers sample anything before they buy it, return anything for a refund or store credit, and use coupons to lower their grocery bill.

On the other hand, some employees admit that Whole Foods makes high margins on candy (such as fancy marshmallows) and Whole Body products, the section of the store that contains vitamins, supplements, organic makeup, and skincare. “A lot of the things we sell—there’s no way I could buy [them],” an anonymous Whole Foods employee who works at a store in Southern California tells Mental Floss.

2. THEY MIGHT PUT DAMAGED PRODUCE IN YOUR SMOOTHIES.

Whole Foods worker stocking vegetables
JEFF HAYNES/AFP/Getty Images

The juice and smoothie bar at Whole Foods may look like it offers a tantalizing mix of fresh fruit and pristine vegetables, but the reality might be less than picture-perfect. Employees at some stores reportedly put old fruit and spinach into green smoothies, while others use bruised and damaged apples to make discounted apple juice. Similarly, some stores may put lettuce, tomato, onions, or mixed greens that haven't sold yet (and will go bad in a day or two) in the salad bar.

3. THEY WISH YOU WOULDN’T USE THEM AS YOUR DOCTOR.

Whole Foods’ commitment to health and high-quality products means that some customers treat their visits to the grocery store more like visits to a doctor, pharmacist, or holistic nutritionist. Although employees in the Whole Body department can help you find vitamins and supplements, they can't diagnose you or suggest treatment plans. “I cringe to think about how much money people dump into trying to solve their problems by taking the advice of the perfect-looking community college student in the body and vitamin aisle when what they need is treatment by a medical doctor,” writes a former Whole Foods employee on Gawker.

4. THEY DON’T ACTUALLY MAKE ALL THEIR PREPARED FOOD IN-HOUSE.

people in line at Whole Foods
TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images

You might assume that employees in each store’s kitchen bake or cook the items you see in the prepared foods section. But that warm loaf of bread, bowl of quinoa salad, or slice of tiramisu that tempts you at lunchtime might not be made in-house. Depending on the location and size of the Whole Foods, some items that appear to be freshly cooked are not. Most bread, for example, is shipped frozen to each store and then baked in an oven. (Bigger stores are more likely to have a full-service kitchen.)

“Little to nothing is actually made from scratch in the Whole Foods bakeries each day,” a former Whole Foods chef writes on her blog. “In the South region, Whole Foods has a huge mass-production kitchen in Alpharetta, GA. If you shop at any Whole Foods in the South and get food off of the hot bar, off of the soup bar, out of the deli case or in pre-packaged containers in the sandwich cooler or refrigerated prepared foods wall, there’s a good chance that your food was actually made in that kitchen in Alpharetta.”

5. THEY LAUGH ABOUT THE “ASPARAGUS WATER” INCIDENT.

A selection of asparagus stalks on wood
iStock

In 2015, some stores notoriously sold asparagus water—a bottle of water with three stalks of asparagus in it—for $6. Customers expressed their outrage on social media, poking fun at the product’s cost and silliness. Whole Foods soon removed the water from shelves, claiming it was a mistake, but the blunder lives on. Asked on Reddit if asparagus water is delicious, a Reddit user named wfmworker replied in the affirmative. “Honestly though, that whole situation didn't even shock me. WF sells some weird stuff.” In 2016, the store removed another $6 item—pre-peeled oranges in plastic containers—after Twitter users mocked the product’s pointlessness and damage to the environment.

6. THEY KNOW HOW TO HACK THE SALAD BAR.

An array of vegetables at a salad bar
iStock

With an assortment of veggies, protein, nuts, and dressings, the salad bar at Whole Foods can be overwhelming, and it’s easy to pay a lot for a small container of food. But because items from the salad bar are priced according to weight, Whole Foods employees have some smart strategies on how to hack it. Some of their tips? Avoid heavier vegetables (like dense cauliflower or broccoli), skip beans, and use less dressing. According to a former Whole Foods Team Member who goes by psh_1_psh_2 on Reddit, you can also use the salad bar to save money on nuts. “The nuts on the salad bar are way less expensive than the nuts in bulk. You could theoretically just fill up your whole salad container with pecans or walnuts and save at least $2/lb,” he says.

7. THEY DEAL WITH SOME CRAZIES.

Whole Foods employees acknowledge that their customer base is unique. In general, the shoppers have a high disposable income, heightened interest in animal welfare, and a desire to support environmentally sustainable farming and fishing practices. But according to employees, it’s not uncommon to encounter customers who are demanding, entitled, or simply overshare their strange beliefs.

“In many cases, these customers have been privileged—financially and often otherwise—all their lives, which means many of them have massive entitlement complexes. It’s kind of hilarious to observe a building full of people who all believe that the world revolves around them,” says the former Whole Foods chef.

A former Whole Foods manager in California tells Thrillist that some customers discussed conspiracy theories with him. “I was so used to crazy people coming in that it became the norm. I had conversations with customers about chemtrails at a freaking grocery store. I had people go off on religious rants about Jews to me—and I'm Jewish, by the way,” he says. “People talk and run their mouths a lot and get too comfortable.”

8. THEY GO THE EXTRA MILE FOR THEIR CUSTOMERS.

Whole Foods employee at sample station with customer
Joe Kohen/Getty Images for Function Drinks

It’s no secret that the store’s items can be pricey, so Whole Foods employees put extra effort into making their customers happy. “I can say as a decorator in the bakery that we give extra time for free to cakes for really nice customers,” says psh_1_psh_2. Customers who smile and engage in small talk can brighten an employee’s day, transforming the experience of bagging groceries from a mundane task into an enjoyable one. Kailee Ver Valin, who has worked as a Team Member for over a year at a Whole Foods in North Carolina, explains that most customers respond positively to her friendliness. “The customers are thankful and friendly. I love talking to people,” she tells Mental Floss.

Additionally, the store’s butchers will debone animals, and sometimes season the meat, all for free. “A lot of people do that in our offices for lunch, or it's a really easy thing to do right before you head home for dinner. And it's not just salt and pepper—there's interesting rubs and spice mixes,” Siegler says.

9. THEY CAN’T DO MUCH ABOUT SHOPLIFTING.

Most Whole Foods employees have at least one story of customers stealing food. Whether someone eats from the prepared foods section before (or instead of) paying for it or lifts a container of vitamins and then asks for a refund, shoplifting is a big problem. Reddit user Lifeoncloud_9, who works as a supervisor at a Whole Foods in Chicago, explains that the company forbids employees from pursuing or trying to stop shoplifters: “We can get fired for confronting them. Most of the time we have an undercover loss prevention guard on duty. When there isn't, the most we can do is notify the manager on duty and he or she can ban them from the store."

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iStock
15 Behind-the-Scenes Secrets of Pool Lifeguards
iStock
iStock

Pool lifeguards do far more than just work on their tan: These trained professionals can detect sometimes-subtle indications of distress, shut down dangerous water activities, and keep visitors safe from harm.

But jumping to the rescue is only a minor part of their routine. To get a better idea of what their job entails, we asked several career pool lifeguards about their duties, from working with dangerous chemicals to dealing with poop emergencies. Here's what we learned.

1. THEY CAN TELL HOW WELL YOU SWIM BY HOW YOU GET INTO THE WATER.

Paul, a lifeguard at a private pool facility in Reno, Nevada, says that he can usually evaluate a person’s swimming abilities by how they enter the water. “People who are less skilled and experienced typically lower themselves into the pool or use the stairs or ladders,” he says. “More skilled swimmers do this thing where they jump into the pool, fully submerge, then push off the bottom and start swimming immediately. It's surprisingly common.”

2. THEY SEE A LOT OF CRACK.

Swimming trunks may be some of the least-intuitive apparel items of the modern world: Get them wet and they’re likely to make for an anatomy lesson no one asked for. “Kids, especially boys, have the strangest inability to notice when their trunks are falling off,” says Marek, an indoor lifeguard in Washington state. “It's usually not a big deal and gets handled when the kid's parent notices and scolds them."

3. THEY’RE AMATEUR CHEMISTS.

Responsibility for maintaining the pH balance of a pool and adding or reducing chemicals to preserve a clean environment is usually the duty of head lifeguards. According to Darrell, a 10-year veteran of indoor pools, handling these substances requires additional training. “This is done at the end of the day and I typically add chemicals twice or sometimes three times a week,” he says. “I add either calcium chloride to control the hardness of the water or sodium bicarbonate, baking soda, to control the alkalinity.” For germ-killing, chlorine and muriatic acid are delivered to the water through a computer-controlled delivery system.

4. SOME VERY GROSS THINGS LURK AT THE BOTTOM OF POOLS.

Some lifeguards are charged with vacuuming the bottom surfaces of pools, which usually produces a composite muck in the canister that Marek refers to as a “diaper”: It’s typically full of hair and gray sludge. But things can get worse. Much worse. “At the summer camp I work at, I've had the pleasure of fishing dead things out of the strainer baskets,” he says. “Frogs and rats. Having seen what comes out of those pools, let's just say that I'm not a big fan of recreation swimming anymore.”

5. THEY DISLIKE LANE HOGS.

Some regulars who use private pools as part of their fitness routine can get a little too self-confident in their skills. “Narcissistic lap swimmers” are a pet peeve of Paul’s. “They can't share lanes and always brag about how they're the best damn person in the pool. It's like, man, I've seen 5-year-olds with a better breast stroke.” (Another way to get on a guard’s bad side: sitting over a lane and dangling your legs in.)

6. THEY’RE NOT ABOVE PEEING IN THE POOL.

It’s a testament to how potent the chemicals are in pools that some lifeguards offering swim lessons don’t mind relieving themselves when nature calls and they don’t feel like getting out. “I know plenty of swim instructors who will relieve themselves in the pool because they don't have much time between lessons and they might be stuck in the water several hours,” Marek says. “One of my former coworkers, and a good friend, has always said that there are two kinds of people in the world. Those that pee in the pool, and those that deny it."

7. IT'S HARD TO PREDICT WHEN TROUBLE WILL STRIKE.

While some lifeguards subscribe to a 15-minute rule—most questionable swimmers are going to get themselves into trouble within 15 minutes of entering the water—Paul cautions that there are always exceptions. “If you're a weak enough swimmer that you would have a problem, you're going to have that problem pretty quickly,” he says. “Though that is only most of the time. Some people get tired and get into trouble later on and some people have heart attacks halfway through their swim. You've got to be ready for anything.”

8. NOSEBLEEDS ARE COMMON.

Irritated nasal passages can be a problem at pools, which means that lifeguards are frequently charged with handling biohazards on or near the deck. “We see a lot of nosebleeds,” Darrell says. “We cover the areas with signage. Hopefully the patron has found a guard quickly if we didn't see it and hasn't left a 50-foot trail of blood on the deck. We then spray the blood with a disinfectant solution designed to kill blood-borne pathogens, wait 10 minutes, then hose directly with water.”

9. THERE’S A PROTOCOL FOR POOP.

It’s the emergency every lifeguard dreads: a fecal deposit in a pool full of swimmers. When that happens, it’s time to “shock” the pool by turning it into a chemical bath. According to Darrell, who considers himself a “poop whisperer,” solids come out first. “Dispersed poop? Everyone out. Scoop and vacuum. The pool is closed for a minimum of eight hours as we now have to chemically burn the water. [That means] basically bringing the chlorine levels up to where even cockroaches would die.” Vomit is slightly less dire: the pool is closed for 30 minutes while the chlorine goes to work.

10. A CROWDED POOL CAN BE SAFER.

The more patrons in the water, the harder it might be for a lifeguard to keep track of everyone. But, Marek says, having too few people can be just as much of a problem. “Crowded pools have the benefit of holding your attention better. If you've got two patrons in the water, it's easy to get bored and zone out."

11. ARM BANDS REALLY ANNOY THEM.

Those inflatable arm bands worn by children? Lifeguards hate them. “They may pop, which would probably be unusual, or they may leak slowly,” Darrell says. “But that's not the real danger. Although they will keep a small child afloat, this is assuming the child has the strength to keep their arms down in order to keep their head above water.”

12. THEY DOUBLE AS JANITORS.

At Paul’s private pool, lifeguards are expected to perform tasks that would usually be reserved for a maintenance crew. “Cleaning is a part of the job,” he says. “Many pools don't have janitors so the bulk of making sure the pool looks presentable is up to the lifeguards.” They’ll even set up tables for parties and clean the bathrooms.

13. THEY HAVE STRATEGIES TO KEEP FROM ZONING OUT.

Guards have all kinds of tricks for not letting their attention wander from swimmers: they keep their shoulders square with the pool, they count how many times a song plays on the radio, and they rotate positions every 15 minutes. “A wandering mind is a dangerous thing to have while actively guarding,” Darrell says. “I count patrons. I go through scenarios in my mind.” Cell phones are usually prohibited: getting caught with one can be grounds for termination.

14. POOL NOODLES ARE THE BANE OF THEIR EXISTENCE.

While people are welcome to bring their own noodles to public pools, Darrell prefers they didn’t. Instead of being used as flotation aids, they wind up getting used as chew toys. “They end up with bite marks and chunks ripped out of them,” he says. “I often wish we could purchase noodles made out of foam that tastes like something rotten to discourage this.” Darrell will not directly seize a noodle from a tiny guest, but if he happens to see one abandoned, he will grab it. And he will not be sorry.

15. THEY’RE NOT BABYSITTERS.

“I think my single biggest peeve when it comes to guarding is parents who assume that we are there to babysit their children for them,” Marek says. “Nothing could be further from the truth. Lifeguards are there to supervise and ensure a safe, and hopefully fun, environment for all. It's incredibly selfish and irresponsible to assume that we are there to watch your one child when we've got hundreds of other people to keep track of. We are there to mitigate risk and respond if something does happen, not to babysit.”

All images courtesy of iStock.

This story originally ran in 2016.

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Cindy Ord, Getty Images
10 Secrets of Ice Cream Truck Drivers
Cindy Ord, Getty Images
Cindy Ord, Getty Images

Ever since Good Humor founder Harry Burt dispatched the first jingling ice cream trucks in Youngstown, Ohio, in 1920, kids and adults alike have had a primal reaction to the sight of a vehicle equipped with a cold, sugary payload. Today, ice cream trucks spend May through October hoping to entice customers into making an impulse beat-the-heat purchase. To get a better idea of what goes into making ice cream a portable business, Mental Floss spoke with several proprietors for their take on everything from ideal weather conditions to police encounters. Here’s the inside scoop.

1. IT CAN GET TOO HOT FOR BUSINESS.

The most common misconception about the ice cream truck business? That soaring temperatures mean soaring profits. According to Jim Malin, owner of Jim’s Ice Cream Truck in Fairfield, Connecticut, record highs can mean decreased profits. “When it’s really hot, like 90 or 100 degrees out, sales go way down,” Malin says. “People aren’t outside. They’re indoors with air conditioning.” And like a lot of trucks, Malin’s isn’t equipped with air conditioning. “I’m suffering and sales are suffering." The ideal temperature? "A 75-degree day is perfect.”

2. THEY DON’T JUST WANDER NEIGHBORHOODS ANYMORE.

An ice cream truck sits parked in a public spot
Chunky Dunks

The days of driving a few miles an hour down a residential street hoping for a hungry clientele have fallen by the wayside. Many vendors, including Malin, make up half or more of their business by arranging for scheduled stops at events like weddings, employee picnics, or school functions. “We do birthday parties, church festivals, sometimes block parties,” he says. Customers can pay in advance, meaning that all guests have to do is order from the menu.

3. SOME OF THEM DRIVE A MINIBUS INSTEAD OF A TRUCK.

For sheer ice cream horsepower, nothing beats a minibus. Laci Byerly, owner of Doodlebop’s Ice Cream Emporium in Jacksonville, Florida, uses an airport-style shuttle for her inventory. “Instead of one or two freezers, we can fit three,” she says. More importantly, the extra space means she doesn’t have to spend the day hunched over. “We can stand straight up.”

4. THEY HAVE A SECRET STASH OF ICE CREAM TO GIVE AWAY TO SPECIAL CUSTOMERS.

Customers line up near an ice cream truck
Andrew Cowie, AFP/Getty Images

The goal of any truck is to sell enough ice cream to justify the time and expense of operation, so freebies don’t make much sense—unless the truck happens to have some damaged goods. Malin says that it’s common for some pre-packaged bars to be broken inside wrappers, rendering them unattractive for sale. He sets these bars aside for kids who know the score. “I put them in a little box for kids who come up and ask if I have damaged ice cream,” he says. “Certain kids know I have it, and I’m happy to give it to them.”

5. THEY’RE CREATING CUSTOM ICE CREAM MENUS.

An ice cream nacho platter is shown
Chunky Dunks

While pre-packaged Popsicles and ice cream sandwiches remain perennial sellers, a number of trucks are mixing up business by offering one-of-a-kind treats. At the Chunky Dunks truck in Madison, Mississippi, owner Will Lamkin serves up Ice Cream Nachos, a signature dish that outsells anything made by Nestle. “It’s cinnamon sugar chips with your choice of ice cream,” he says. “You get whipped cream, too. And for the ‘cheese,’ it’s a caramel-chocolate sauce.” The nachos work because they’re “streetable,” Lamkin’s label for something people can carry while walking. “The next seven or eight people in line see it, and then everyone’s ordering it.”

6. THEY DON’T ALWAYS PLAY THE ICONIC JINGLE.

Before most people see an ice cream truck, they hear that familiar tinny tune. While some operators still rely on it for its familiarity, Malin and others prefer more modern tracks. “Normally we play ‘80s rock,” he says. “Or whatever we feel like playing that day. We rock it out.”

7. POP CULTURE CHARACTERS ARE SOME OF THEIR BEST SELLERS.

A Captain America ice cream treat
Doodlebop's

While adult customers tend to favor ice cream treats they remember from their youth, kids who don’t really recognize nostalgia tend to like items emblazoned with the likenesses and trademarks of licensed characters currently occupying their TV screens and local theaters. “Characters are the most popular with kids,” Byerly says. “SpongeBob, Minions, and Captain America.”

8. THEY KEEP DOG FOOD HANDY.

At Doodlebop’s, Byerly has a strategy for luring customers with pets: She keeps dog treats on hand. “The dog will sometimes get to us before the owner does,” she says. “If the dog comes up to the truck, he’ll get a Milkbone.” That often leads to a human companion purchasing a treat for themselves.

9. SOMETIMES RIVALS WILL CALL THE COPS.

Though there have been stories of rogue ice cream vendors aggressively competing for neighborhood space over the years, Malin says that he’s never experienced any kind of out-and-out turf war. Ice cream truck drivers tend to be a little more passive-aggressive than that. “I have a business permit for Fairfield, so that’s typically where I’m driving,” he says. “But sometimes I might go out of town for an event. Once, a driver pulled up to me and asked if I had a permit. I said ‘No, I’m just here for an hour,’ and he said, ‘OK, I’m calling the cops.’ They try and get the police to get you out [of town].” Fortunately, police typically don’t write up drivers for the infraction.

10. SOME LUCKY CUSTOMERS HAVE AN APP FOR HOME DELIVERY.

An ice cream truck driver looks out of his window
Roger Kisby, Getty Images

Technology has influenced everything, and ice cream trucks are no exception. Malin uses an app that allows customers to request that he make a special delivery. "People can request I pull up right outside their home," he says. If their parents are home, there’s one additional perk: "I accept credit cards."

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