Be an Educated Consumer

The customer may always be right, but not always necessarily knowledgeable. Shop smarter by learning what to look for—and look out for—when buying different types of goods. 

Whether you’re grocery-shopping, picking up pain relief, choosing a toy, or looking for the latest fashions, you should know something about product quality and safety. Shop smarter by learning what to look for when buying:


Shop the walls last: The outside aisles in supermarkets have perishables, so put these in your shopping cart last to keep them at a safe temperature until you get home and get them in the refrigerator.

"Best before": These dates only apply until a product is opened—then the clock starts ticking. If a food looks, smells or tastes off, toss it—regardless of any expiry date.

Certified organic:  Look for the Canada Organic logo. Starting June 2009, it will certify food products that meet the revised Canadian standard for organic production and that contain at least 95 percent organic ingredients.


Dig for a DIN: Over-the-counter remedies have either a DIN (drug identification number) or NPN (natural product number) of 8 digits. The latter, used for herbal products, will be legislated in 2009; by the end of that year, any natural health product without an NPN should be considered "unapproved" by Health Canada. These codes lend assurance that the product has been reviewed for safety, efficacy, health claims and quality.

A consumer’s friend: View the pharmacist as an additional safeguard to help you choose medications that are appropriate for you. "Safety isn’t just about what you take, but what else you’re taking, so discuss this with your pharmacist," explains Gery Harrington, cirector of public affairs for NDMC (Nonprescription Drug Manufacturers of Canada).

Travelling? If you’re travelling outside the country, you should know that laws governing drug approvals vary greatly, and over-the-counter medications may have different ingredients in other countries. For example, the decongestant PPA is banned in Canada and the U.S. because of a related increase in stroke risk. It’s always better to buy and pack the medications you may need before leaving home.

Be Web-wary: Don’t buy or take any prescription drug that hasn’t been prescribed for you by a health-care practitioner who has examined you in person, suggests the Canadian Pharmacists Association.


Don’t toss the box or bill: Keep any packaging as well as receipts for at least three months, in case of issues with product safety or durability. That way you can contact the manufacturer and/or the retailer to return the item, advises Leigh Poirier, executive director of the Canadian Toy Testing Council.

Play by the "age" rules: Follow the manufacturer’s age specifications for a toy. If there’s a symbol with 0-3 crossed out, the item is unsafe for children in that age group.

Artist’s palette: Check that children’s arts and crafts items, such as crayons, markers, paints, modelling clay and craft paper, are certified as "non-toxic". Look for the Approved Product (AP) seal by the Art & Creative Materials Institute


Save the planet: Like the feel of 100% cotton? Opt for organic—you’ll spend more, but you’ll be saving the planet one Tee at a time. Conventional cotton production accounts for one quarter of the world’s insecticide use, reports the Organic Trade Association.

Don’t dry clean: Avoid items marked “dry clean only.” They run up your tab for the life of the garment and pollute the environment, unless you can find a green cleaner—more are popping up across Canada.

Bargain or bust?
Decide whether that low cost is really a bargain by calculating the cost per wear of an item. If that $30 acrylic sweater looks ready for the charity heap after one wear, it’s $30 per wear. But if you buy a coveted $150 designer sweater and get to wear it 15 times, the cost is only $10 per wear.

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