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How to Use Reusable Bags in a Pandemic

Carol Woods

We’re hearing from many people that they’ve switched back to plastic bags recently, due primarily to store restrictions on reusable bags. The stores don’t want their employees touching your provided bags – which I can understand – since personally, I don’t want to touch the bags at the store that both employees and customers have potentially touched and/or coughed on!

Studies have shown that Covid-19 germs can live for up to 72 hours on plastic (https://hub.jhu.edu/2020/03/20/sars-cov-2-survive-on-surfaces/) – so this can definitely be a potential source of infection.

In most places, you can still use your own bags if you bag your groceries yourself – so in this post we’ll go over the most efficient ways we’ve found to bag groceries yourself. Spoiler – it’s a little different than the ways the store will do it!

We also think that our current situation doesn’t change the big picture of damage to our environment – so we hope you’ll support that if you can through the pandemic, and hopefully lots more people will come back to reusable bags once things settle down.

Note: we’ve also found that our “Pack Bag” is the perfect size to hold a cloth mask, travel size hand sanitizer and Purell wipes or gloves. It also has a clip, so you can easily attach it to your purse, belt loop or Esse tote when shopping. Please consider extra safety precautions like wearing a mask, sanitizing your hands after paying for your groceries and using a disinfecting wipe on the shopping cart!

We also recommend washing your bags after each trip to the store. If you have Esse bags – they can be machine washed on the gentle setting, then hung dry. The tote should be spot-cleaned or sprayed with disinfectant unless you have the solid black version; the screen print designs may not survive the washing machine.

Option 1: Efficiently bagging your own groceries

The most efficient was we’ve found to bag our own groceries is this:

1. Separate items in your cart – frozen items, boxed items, canned goods, produce and fragile items like bread or eggs are all in separate sections of your cart. We suggest stacking cans and laying items like cereal and crackers on their side in a stack, which keeps them together and also makes it quick to transfer them to the conveyer belt at the checkstand.

2. Put the heavy items on the belt first – this means you, cans! If you have any other heavy sturdy items like bagged apples or cantaloupes, put them out now as well.

3. Next, set out boxed items. We suggest heavier frozen food first, followed by lighter boxes such as crackers.

4. Next up will be produce.  If you have large items like cantaloupes, bags of apples or flats of tangerines, set them up after the cans if possible, since you’ll need them at the bottom of your bags so they don’t flatten anything else.

5. And finally, put out fragile items that need to be on top, such as bread, bananas and eggs.

6. Now it’s time to head down to the bagging area. Adjust your cart so it’s next to you while you stand at the end of the station. Go ahead and put 4 grocery bags in the main section of your cart – you’re going to load them all at the same time.

7. The items you put on the belt first will arrive first – start by putting cans in your bags. We recommend sticking to a single layer to keep the weight of the bag manageable. If you have soda in boxes, put those on the bottom shelf of the cart. If you buy soda in 2 liter bottles, they may need a bag all to themselves.

8. Next your frozen food will come up. Start with a layer of frozen items in the bags that don’t have cans in them.

9. Next up will be lighter boxes like rice and cereal. Put the larger boxes in with the cans – this will keep the weight manageable in those bags. Smaller boxes go in on top of the frozen items.

10. Spread your produce out as a layer in all of the bags, so nothing gets squished.

11. Finally, put the fragile bread, eggs, etc either on the top layer of your bags or in the shopping cart basket.

12. We recommend a quick hand sanitize after you pay, and then you’re ready to head for the car!

Option 2: Scan Bag Go (if available!)

Our local store has a system called Scan Bag Go which we really like (it’s owned by Kroger; according to a scan of Google it looks like this or similar technology is also available at Sam’s Club, BJs Wholesale, Meijer, King Souper’s, Giant Eagle, City Market, Dillon’s, and Wegman’s for a start). With this system you either use a device available at the store or download the app to your phone (we recommend the phone app, so you don’t need to touch the devices!). As you shop, you scan each item and then place it in your reusable grocery bag. When you’re done, scan your phone at the self-pay register and it will allow you to pay for your purchases. Everything’s already bagged in the cart, so you’re good to go!


Maybe some readers out there have an Option 3? Please post if you do, we are all in this together!

1 comment

  • My local markets don’t even want me to bring reusable bags into the store, so what I’ve been doing is simply asking them to put everything back into the cart after scanning. Once I get to my car, I bag everything there.

    Karen Spiegel

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