STANISLAUS COUNTY — Gather the family. It's time to celebrate National Weights and Measures Week, perhaps with a carton of ice cream that contains exactly one quart.
The annual observance highlights the work of inspectors who assure consumers that gasoline pumps, grocery scales and many other devices are accurate.
"It is the basis of commerce," said Milton O'Haire, who oversees the function as agricultural commissioner for Stanislaus County. "If you didn't have accurate weights and measures, everyone would be making up their own standards."
Three of O'Haire's employees test about 9,000 devices in the county. They include scales that weigh cattle or gold, meters that determine water bills or taxicab fares, and devices that measure fabric or wire.
They can be low-tech, such as a produce scale with a rotary dial, or high-tech, such as a gasoline pump that measures to the thousandth of a gallon.
The inspectors also sample packaged goods to make sure the contents are as advertised. Tuolumne County once investigated a report that vegetable oil bottles were not filled to the top. Stanislaus County looked into a complaint that a television screen was not as wide as the buyer expected.
Inspectors in California and beyond have checked on food and beverages from the Modesto area perhaps wine in a 750-milliliter bottle, cheese in a 1-pound block or tomatoes in a 15-ounce can.
The inspectors follow procedures set by state, national and international organizations.
Kristin Macey, director of measurement standards for the California Department of Food and Agriculture, posted a blog about the work Monday.
She noted that this function started in the United States in 1799. She quoted President John Quincy Adams declaring it to be "among the necessaries of life to every individual of human society."
Macey said the enforcement cost for the average California family is just a penny a day.
Each county has a sealer of weights and measures, often the same person as the agricultural commissioner. That official's name is on the seal that certifies a device.
Monday happened to be the first day in that role for O'Haire, a longtime assistant commissioner who succeeded the retired Gary Caseri.
O'Haire said the work "makes sure that what we call 'equity' prevails in the marketplace. It protects the consumer and also protects the business."
Bee staff writer John Holland cab be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2385.