With all of the COVID metrics moving in the right direction and the pandemic seemingly winding down, Gov. Phil Murphy was asked this week why shoppers are still not allowed to return items purchased at supermarkets.

The governor said he believed the law prohibiting the return of such items had been repealed months ago, and shoppers were permitted to return products for a refund if they wished. His chief legal counsel agreed that was the case.

Turns out they were both wrong.

Supermarket returns not permitted by law

When Murphy re-instated the New Jersey public health emergency on Jan. 11, which allowed him to continue the school mask mandate during the peak of the omicron surge, it also re-activated the no return policy for supermarkets.

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When the original law took effect in the spring of 2020 there had been concern that COVID was being spread not only in the air but also by touch.

Karen Meletta, a spokeswoman for Wakefern Food Corp, the parent company of Shoprite, said, when this no-return policy took effect it included all types of groceries as well as paper products, cleaning supplies, health and beauty products and pet food.

She said the result of this is that trying to return anything you bought at any supermarket remains illegal.

‘It’s important for us to obey the law. We want to make sure we’re always in compliance with the law and we’re doing our best to accommodate our customers but we certainly don’t want to run afoul of the law,” she said.

Her advice to customers is to be patient.

“Bear with us, let’s hope that we get that element of the public health emergency revoked, and that we can go back to accepting product returns in accordance with our regular product return policy,” Meletta said.

Exception to ban on supermarket returns

In one specific instance, returns of purchased items are permitted.

“If in fact a product is somehow spoiled or there was a manufacturer’s defect, there are provisions in the law that allow those products to still be returned," she said.

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She said having the no return policy go back into effect last month may not have been intentional but the fact remains it is currently illegal in the state of New Jersey to return items to supermarkets.

“There’s a lot of confusion. There’s confusion at the store level there’s confusion by our customers," she said.

Meletta added she’s sure the governor will “act quickly to implement a fix.”

When asked for comment on the situation, the governor’s press secretary said “Gov. Murphy is open to working with the Legislature to amend this law.”

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com.

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