June 04, 2001 12:00 PM

Marcia Baker’s meat loaf recipe called for 2½ cups—20 oz.—of ketchup. But the 20—oz. bottle her husband, Bill, brought home from the store came up short—about 1½ oz. short.

At first Marcia, 66, thought she wasn’t trying hard enough to get the ketchup out. But it turns out she measured right, and the difference will cost the Heinz company more than $800,000 and 10 million oz. of ketchup.

Bill, 68, a retired carpenter who lives with Marcia in Redding, Calif., reported the discrepancy to the Shasta County weights and measures office, which investigated and found that the Bakers’ bottle wasn’t a fluke. “At a number of stores, bottles were short,” says Deputy D.A. Matthew Stegman. Last November, five years after Marcia decided to make meat loaf for dinner, Heinz, which blames moisture loss from its new recyclable plastic bottles for the missing ounces, agreed to pay civil penalties and investigative costs totaling $180,000 and to overfill by about 1/8 oz. all ketchup bottled in California for one year—which, state officials estimate, will cost the company about $650,000. Nevertheless, says company spokesman Michael Mullen, “I wish all ketchup consumers were as serious about their Heinz ketchup as [Baker] is.”

The Bakers never heard from Heinz themselves, but they aren’t particularly upset. “Our son-in-law said, ‘They ought to at least give you a life’s supply of ketchup,’ ” says Marcia. “But I don’t really care for ketchup.”

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