Friday, April 8, 2011

Reusable Grocery Bags: Their Contents and Discontents

Normally I put groceries either directly into my pannier, or ask for a paper bag. I had not used dedicated reusable shopping bags till now. The Urbana bike I am testing supplied a couple to go with its rear rack, so I decided to give it a try.

My experience at the grocery store was interesting. This was a "normal" grocery store, not an organic or whole foods one. I bought a few things, among which were a couple of loose apples and a packet of raw meat. The cashier rang me up and asked whether I wanted paper or plastic. I replied that I had my own bag, and began putting the groceries in it. The cashier then started helping me by taking the apples and reaching for a plastic bag. Seeing her do this, I said, "No thanks, I'm just going to put them directly into my bag." She replied, "But they're loose. Let me put them in a plastic bag first." I assured her that I preferred to place them in my bag as they were, and reluctantly she relinquished the apples. But then we moved on to the meat. Again, she tried to put the already packaged meat into a plastic bag and I resisted. She then warned me that carrying produce in reusable bags will make me sick because of the bacteria. I pointed to a stack of reusable bags by the register with the grocery store's logo on them. "But you sell these yourself; don't you expect customers to use them?" To which she replied that customers use them, but first they'll put items like meat and vegetables into individual plastic bags. And just as she was saying this, I saw a customer at the next register doing exactly that - placing groceries that were already in individual plastic bags, into a larger reusable bag that they extracted from their coat pocket.

It surprised me to encounter resistance from the cashier with respect to the reusable bag. I've experienced milder versions of it when putting food directly into my pannier, but never to this extent - perhaps because I keep the pannier below the cash register making what I am doing less noticeable.  Now I wonder whether most people using reusable bags are in fact putting their food into plastic bags first for fear of bacteria. Maybe I am missing something here, but does that not defeat the purpose?..

I know that many of you like reusable grocery bags. How do you carry loose fruit, vegetables and packets of meat? Do you wash the bags? What do you make of the "bacteria" debate?

104 comments:

  1. All the grocery stores I go to try to put meat, veg, and ice cream into a plastic bag before putting it in my reusable bag. I just politely but firmly ask for no plastic.

    When I ask for paper bags they don't try to double bag with plastic bags.

    I wash my reusable bags as needed, and I've never had any problems.

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  2. i use reusable bags. i don't double bag generally. however, it's not all your groceries that you need to be worried about...it's the meat. meat products get double bagged so that it doesn't come in contact with your veggies and fruit. meat products are notoriously bad at being covered in bacteria (even the wrapping that it's in!). your cashier might have been a bit confused about having to double bag everything, but you should double bag your meat (and you should wash your veggies and fruit when you get home anyhow).

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  3. I bag all of my lose produce into one of those plastic bags that are in the big rolls in the produce section, together. Sometimes if I'm buying a lot of one item I'll put them in their own bag.
    I never thought of doing it as preventing bacteria but as organization, especially to keep the stuff from rolling about while I'm still shopping. I've never had anyone badger me about it either, how odd!
    I have lightly sprayed down the inside of my bag with some lysol once or twice but never anything more then that in the year that I've been using it.

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  4. I wash our bags if juice from the meat leaks out, but that's pretty rare. One could probably argue that the reusable bags in our house are, in fact, teeming with bacteria; I, however, think that it's a bad idea to live life in constant fear of germs.

    Regarding the actions of the others that you observed, they're simply greenwashing their image, it's the new cool thing to do.

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  5. In the UK the cashier generally asks if you want a hand with your packing - replying "No" will generally stop them from attempting to interfere with bagging. I use reusable bags and never place fruit/veg into plastic bags (seems like a complete waste). I don't think I've ever washed the reusable bags either and I've never been ill from 'bacteria'. Exceptions include small loose items like mushrooms and the like which I'll put in small plastic bags provided at the fruit/veg aisles.

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  6. I suppose on it depends on one's motive for using the reusable bags. I use them because they are more practical and fit snuggly in by bicycle baskets and wire panniers. Depends on the vegetable, but if they have loose skins like onions that may make a mess, or if the vegetables themselves are loose, like green beans, I use a bag. I always wrap chicken or meat in additional bags so that chicken juice or meat blood wont leak and run all over my other groceries, but I'm not concerned about bacteria. If my purpose was to use less plastic, and therefore less oil, switching to reusable bags really doesn't do much anyway. I don't tend to throw my bags in the street, so I'm not worried about littering or giant aquatic garbage patches.

    None of that is an excuse for the teller being all up in your business, though.

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  7. Meat gets another bag as the packages are never very well sealed. Produce gets bagged because it's either wet from being misted or I just want to keep it organized. I've always wondered why people don't wash those bags and just keep them in the trunk. That said, I have plenty of uses for plastic shopping bags. Great way to keep clothes dry in my pannier in a West Coast rain storm, kitchen garbage bags, etc.

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  8. I have no qualms about just putting my groceries loose into a reusable bag. I do have to admit to getting the tall narrow produce bags, though, since I find them useful for other things.

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  9. I don't buy meat that often, but when I do, I will bag that in plastic so that it doesn't leak all over. That plastic bag then becomes a dog poop bag the next day.

    I wash my reusable bags every so often. I never worry about bacteria on my veggies & stuff, honestly. And I don't recall ever getting sick from anything I've brought home from the grocery.

    My store is over-zealous with rubber bands. Holy cow! They will try to rubber band any produce that comes in a container (like strawberries) and eggs, and they do NOT like it if you tell them to leave the bands off.

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  10. Not all bacteria is bad for you, though you might think so if you have a hypochondriac for a cashier. When I go to the farmers' market and see the majority of people just stuff their goods directly into a whatever reuseable bag, whether synthetic or cotton, their basket or pannier I like. Not so oddly, those people look the healthiest and least worried, but I may be projecting.

    When I use a public restroom and see people not wash their hands, then see other folks pick up produce in a store the least of my worries is the bacteria in my reuseable.

    Meat is in a special category because of potential leakage. For that I put the package in a Tyvek envelope, available at your local post office, bring it home and stuff the entire thing into the freezer or frig. Rinse it out later, hang inside out to dry. They're good for 50+ uses this way.

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  11. By the way, when I say "Maybe I am missing something here, but does that not defeat the purpose?.." I am not talking in terms of environmentalism per se, but also in terms of convenience. I find it extremely inconvenient to carry a dedicated reusable grocery bag with me at all times. So if I'm going to be using lots of little plastic bags already, then why not get +1 and not bother with the trouble of remembering to bring a reusable bag? What is the benefit of replacing that single outer plastic bag with a reusable bag, when you're already using 6 other plastic bags?..

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  12. I do put my produce in those thin produce bags, for several reasons:
    *To keep stuff from falling out of the cart or rolling around getting bruised
    *Keep things like lettuce heads from getting dirt / bacteria on them
    *Keep things like bunches of beets and radishes from getting dirt on my other items
    *Make it easier for the cashier to weigh or ring up the whole quantity of x type of produce esp. if only 1 of the quantity has a produce code sticker.
    *Habit / my own hangup about it.

    However, for example, I will put different colors of bell peppers in the same produce bag if they're the same price.

    As for meat, if the package is sticky or looks "juicy" I will put it in a produce bag. If the package is clean and the contents are not tight against the plastic, I don't bag it.

    At the checkout I place my reusable bags on the belt before my items or hand them to the bagger right away if there is a bagger. I don't care if meat goes in the bag with other stuff if I've taken the precautions above. I feel like my bags stay pretty clean this way but I wash them if they look like they need it. I also recycle the produce bags & regular paper or plastic bags.

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  13. I usually bring my panniers in with me to the grocery and use that as my reusable bag. I wrap lettuce in my work socks and pile paper-wrapped seafood on top of my chain lube.

    Well ... not really, but I do tend to store everything loose, and just go with standard grocery packer logic (ie. heavier items at the bottom, fragile or compressible items like eggs or bread on top). I do also try to be mindful of keeping meat and seafood in a separate pannier (or partition if using my messenger bag) from produce. This more about preventing scenarios like, say, fluids from meat and fish contaminating fruits and vegetables if they get bruised or punctured. If I think about it, I try to pack a couple of old plastic bags for reuse while shopping so that I don't provoke these sort of ethical concerns with my cashiers and grocery baggers.

    I don't typically clean or scour my panniers. The only time that it was necessary was when I once used a pannier as an ersatz brining vessel a 15 lb. turkey (left outdoors, overnight, on my bike chained to a balcony). The pannier was lined with a trash bag but the bag developed a rip as I was lifting it out of the pannier, thus soaking my pannier in a couple of gallons of salty turkey water.

    Yeah, minor health hazard there.

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  14. I find the reusable ones are also easier to carry and don't saw your arm off like plastic bags do when you have a lot of them! I have some canvas bags with straps long enough to hang from my shoulder and it's much more comfortable to carry all my groceries in that way. I have 1 or 2 reusables at work, and the rest at home / in the car, and I have some from Target that fold up small that I keep in my purse sometimes, but if you don't carry a purse / bag daily or switch purses all the time it could be inconvenient.

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  15. Velouria, I agree with you questioning the benefit of a reusable bag coupled with multiple interior bags, not to mention grocery packaging. I just find the reusable bags incredibly convenient. Perhaps because I don't carry a purse or any other type of bag and I usually tote all my stuff around in the reusable bags. I'm also able to fold them flat and stuff them in the bottom of my bike basket under a bungie for whenever they may be needed. I don't worry about them being stolen, and I would never be able to keep a permanent bag on my bike like on MDI's Pashley, because I can guarantee that junkies would rummage through them looking for stuff to steal. Loose plastic grocery bags by themselves full of groceries are a lumpy mess in my baskets and food flies out of them at every pothole.

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  16. Plastics industry funds study showing that reusable bags dribbled with gore and incubated in the trunks of cars show bacterial growth, some of which occur naturally in the human gut (e. coli, common non-virulent sort). Ridiculous scare tactic: http://www.walletpop.com/2010/07/06/reusable-bag-health-risk-stems-from-meat-juice/

    Bacteria are everywhere. Keyboards are dirtier than toilet seats. Relax. Cook meat well that may have been kept at warm temperatures. Wash produce. Live long and prosper.

    Suggest you refer to your bags as 'probiotic" next time.

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  17. I could go on for a long time about food safety and how over-the-top we get in the U.S., and what I think the reasons are... but suffice it to say, we are somewhat careful about the quality of what we buy, and we put it all in the same bag together. Sometimes, if we remember, we take little muslin bags that we made to put produce in (just keep them inside the larger re-usable bag), but usually we forget those, so it just all goes in the bag together.

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  18. Unlike Monday's posting, I can comment on this! We shop almost exclusively at Trader Joes, using canvas bags or backpacks. There's NEVER been a problem or confusion. The times we have to shop at the chain grocery store next door (Vons)they do try hard but are limited, bless their hearts. They use our bags, sometimes double bagging meat/frozen, but the biggest problem is they only put only a few items in each bag. Their typical customers must not be very robust.

    And re. Monday: Something that could help is bringing the bars closer/higher so the pelvis isn't tilted forward as much.

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  19. I've got a pair of OrganicBike's re-claimed saddle bags. Since they're made out of the same material as industrial agricultural bags, I'm not too worried about throwing foodstuffs into them. However, I'm a vegetarian so the whole meat thing is beyond me.

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  20. "By the way, when I say "Maybe I am missing something here, but does that not defeat the purpose?.." I am not talking in terms of environmentalism per se, but also in terms of convenience. I find it extremely inconvenient to carry a dedicated reusable grocery bag with me at all times. So if I'm going to be using lots of little plastic bags already, then why not get +1 and not bother with the trouble of remembering to bring a reusable bag? What is the benefit of replacing that single outer plastic bag with a reusable bag, when you're already using 6 other plastic bags?"

    The +1 bag is generally not durable due to the load it has to carry. Inner, smaller bags might not be as well but they last longer due to smaller loads.

    re: carrying reuseables. You find it inconvenient because you don't have room for them in your pretty panniers! You don't carry a purse as well, right?

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  21. We have smaller reusable bags for the produce, which the go inside the larger reusable grocery bags. Not because of bacteria--it's just nice to keep things together. I do sometimes get plastic produce bags for things that will wilt quickly in the fridge. I can see the rationale for bagging meat, because sometimes the packages are leaky, but we buy it very rarely.

    I've gotten good results saying, "Oh, I'm on my bike. Let me bag this so it will fit on my rack best." This gets me out of the problem I have most often, which is baggers who want to put no more than a few items in each bag.

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  22. I can see the extra bag for meats that could leak. But otherwise the cashier needs to stick to ringing up your items :)

    Sorta related...I normally refuse the bags all-together when I have a single item or two, but have been at stores that tell me I "must" put them in a bag for "security" purposes. ????

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  23. I think in America there is a prevalent phobia of germs and dirt among many people. With the many recent food recalls, this may not be unfounded, though I think that has to do more with the quality of food and how it is produced rather than how much dirt and germs are on it. In fact, I think a little dirt and germs are good for you, though that's just me.

    In my house we try to use the reusable bags when we remember. When we forget we get plastic and use the bags for cleaning out the cat litter box. In the mean time I've been pining after something like this to keep in my reusable bags: http://www.etsy.com/listing/61794734/4-owl-produce-bags-mesh-market-bags

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  24. Ground Round Jim said...
    "re: carrying reuseables. You find it inconvenient because you don't have room for them in your pretty panniers! You don't carry a purse as well, right?"


    That's right, I never carry a purse. My panniers are actually quite large and there is of course room for a folded up reusable bag in there. I just tend to forget.

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  25. If I only have a couple of pieces of fruit - no plastic bag. If I have, let's say 8+ fruit/veggie items, I generally do put them into one of the plastic produce bags on the roll in the store, simply to keep them from rolling about (then I use it later to pick up dog droppings or for other purposes... but that's another story).

    I do wash my reusable grocery bags (not after every trip to the store, but fairly regularly). I specifically purchased a material that was washable so that they could be easily cleaned. They've held up pretty well (bought them 4 years ago, and still have all of them, though a couple are coming apart at the handle now), and they can hold up to about 40 lbs (more than I could ever carry with multiple bags on a bicycle).

    I don't purchase meat very often though because I'm not a fan, but hubby does appreciate a slab of animal flesh every now and again, and I find that the clerk always wants to put it into another plastic bag. I always ask them to simply put it in the larger bag, but they look at me like I'm crazy to do such a thing. Personally, I figure everything is going to be cleaned, so I don't particularly worry about loose items in the bag.

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  26. I'm on board with DFD.

    We go through about 3 lbs of apples every 2 or 3 days. So I try to buy more than a few at a time. Using those thin plastic bags in the produce aisle is convenient.

    The super market nearest us keeps the same kind of thin plastic bags in the meat section, so all the meat goes in one of those, or gets bagged separately at the register in its own bag.

    I wouldn't be overly concerned about the meat leaking onto the veggies or whatever, but we have 2 little girls who don't always wash their apples if I'm not looking. Other than that, the reusable bags are fine, though if I ever get some grocery panniers I'll start asking for paper.

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  27. I think the paranoia about germs is far scarier than most of the germs are themselves. I put stuff in the same (reusable baggo) bags, which we do wash but not urgently. We do shop daily and never have a huge amount of stuff. Our butchers wrap everything in butcher paper-- which seems to contain juices better than plastic? When I get fish at the farmer's market it comes in plastic-- I don't have my own fish bag.

    On the other hand, I would be much more concerned about contamination if were regularly buying industrially produced meat, eggs or dairy. This corollary brought to you by Brooklyn Smugness Bureau.™

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  28. Forgetting is the biggest reason people don't use reuseables. That's why we have a hideous assortment strewn in every car or bike bag. Then, of course, there isn't one when you need it.

    Sorry, that last comment had a smiley face attached to it but I accidentally deleted it.

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  29. I have reusable cotton mesh produce bags for loose items that I want to keep together. We don't often buy meat at the grocery store (typically get it from Costco, where they don't bag anything, or straight from the farm) so its rarely an issue. But if I am doing meat, I have a plastic coated reusable bag that I use specifically for meat so I can wash it out.

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  30. "This corollary brought to you by Brooklyn Smugness Bureau.™ " *snort* :)

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  31. There have been studies that do find salmonella in bags that have been used to carry meat. My solution for that is to use machine washable bags for the meats. I've found I've acquired enough of these free over time.

    I tend to use bins here for winter shopping which is done via our van. Then I try to limit to a bi-weekly shop. In the bins I just make sure to sort meats into one bin with the frozen.

    Otherwise, we use the reusable bags and don't plastic bag first. Actually I'll use the bike trailer for summer shopping.

    I would fall into the 'packing into plastic bags and then into reusuable is missing the point' side of the conversation here.

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  32. Except for in the specific situations that others have mentioned (drippy meat, dirty root veggies, small fragile berries) I tend to just heave it all into my pannier. It's easier than trying to bring a bag day to day.

    I still haven't perfected my "re-usable bag pannier" and would love to hear/ see more details on how the Urbana bags work (it looks like they clip on somehow?)

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  33. I always use reusable grocery bags and I put my purchases directly into the bags, rather than wrapping in individual plastic baggies first.

    I do tend to separate my purchases though. I buy a lot of fruit and veg, so that usually gets carried in its own bulging organic cotton string bag, then I'll put unwrapped bakery products in another smaller organic cotton or hemp bag. Other paper-wrapped edible groceries get shoved all together into a third organic cotton bag, and finally cleaning and household products get their own separate bag so that they don't contaminate the foodstuffs.

    The only time I use plastic is for raw meat, and then only if the butcher doesn't use a greaseproof paper/paper bag combo instead. And if I do buy meat, that tends to go into the catch-all bag with the rest of the wrapped edibles.

    My insistence on avoiding plastic does seem to puzzle check-out staff at supermarkets, which is one of the reasons why I tend to shop mainly at organic stores and farmers markets instead.

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  34. I once had the cashier at a local fish shop refuse to allow me to put my paper-wrapped fish into my reusable canvas bag. I accepted the plastic bag so that I could get my fish and get out of there but it didn't feel right. Interestingly, the sustainable fish reseller in town encourages customers to bring their own bag.

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  35. "I find it extremely inconvenient to carry a dedicated reusable grocery bag with me at all times."
    I have to agree with the above post but not in that it is "inconvenient" per-se to carry these bags around, but in an even more simple point that I don't always PLAN my visits to our local food store. A lot of my shopping trips are just to grab bits and bobs on the way back from a nice walk out. On that walk, I take minimal items - usually my wallet is in my pocket as well as my cellphone. I don't grab a reusable bag when I go for a walk but more often than not find myself at the store picking up some milk, veggies or meat. Our favorite local store has stopped using plastic carrier bags and uses paper instead...but they don't have handles so it can be cumbersome to walk more than one (or less than 1 if it is heavy) back to our place.
    Having said that, I am terribly overdue to wash my collection of reusable bags!

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  36. neighbour, "Brooklyn Smugness Bureau.™"
    I understand BSNYC is the Executive Director there, but only when he rides his Smugfiets.

    re: butcher paper. Our Whole Foods meat counter features butcher paper of their own design, i.e. it's too narrow. So the meat guys (not butchers) put chickens in a plastic bag, THEN wrap it in paper. WTF. So I've asked the guys to wrap it only in paper, only they have to use 30 feet of it to contain the chicken. Perhaps they think it's still alive. Then they don't really wrap it, but kind of crumble everything together and hand you a giant scrunchie.

    After a couple times, I just had to speak with the mgr. Please buy wider paper. I know this isn't Paris and I don't expect you to wrap it in a bow and place it on a doily but really (showing her the giant scrunchie.) "Oh, I'm glad you said something! We should get wider paper!"

    Really, I have to tell you this?

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  37. MandG said...
    "I have reusable cotton mesh produce bags..."


    When I was a child, in Europe lots of people carried groceries in bags like these, only of course not handmade linen but probably nylon. They folded up into tiny little wads, so it was easy to have multiples in different bags and pockets. Now I only see them in France and some of the smaller towns in Italy. Anyone know of a good source for these?

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  38. One thing that happens here, which I think is interesting, is that if you bring your own bag the cashier will not often bag your items. I don't mind bagging my own stuff at all, but I do think it's an interesting phenomenon, psychologically, that they think of the reusable bag as "yours" and there is a border they won't cross to touch it. Whereas the plastic they provide could indicate a lack of value (who cares if I touch this?) or a safe and sanitary barrier between then and you, both consequences of the bags "disposable" qualities. Of course, not actually disposable, at all, but serving that alienating function . . .

    @GroundRoundJim, I admit I am longing to see the Bike Snob on his smugfiets.

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  39. V -- I used to have a few of those knit bags that I actually purchased from Whole Foods back when they were still Bread and Circus in Massachusetts (... maybe 1999?) They were handy as reusable produce bags, but I had to toss one after it frayed and ripped, then another after the cotton threads turned into a self-sustaining mold colony when I left it in a pantry during an extended time away.

    I think I still see them from time to time in Whole Foods when I've gone in. I just carry lingering guilt over abusing my old ones that I haven't repurchased.

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  40. neighbour - that's a good reading of the situation and it pisses me off. Sometimes the non-acceptance of the bag gives you second-class status. You sign the cc thing, get handed the receipt. In the meantime many times the cashier hasn't even moved your stuff to the end, because you've made your bed by not accepting the social customs here, now lie in it. So you stand there at the little podium and reach over for your bag and start filling. Everyone is looking at you because you're holding them up. Classism in action at the grocery store, meted out by a clerk.

    Until he shows up at the monthly meeting, here he is in Prospect Park, friend on the SF: http://video.bicycling.com/video/Bicycling-magazine-runs-into-Bi

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  41. I'm in Northern California, which might be a bit more open about reusable bags in general, but I've never had a cashier try to put things in a plastic bag before putting them in my reusable bag. If they did, I would politely decline, but I've yet to be faced with the issue here.

    As far as the bacteria issue - we're talking about produce that grow on trees, outside. They're picked (most likely by machines nowadays) and shipped long distances in the back of trucks. At the store they're handled by stockers and customers that have to inspect every single one before selecting. And who knows what's on their hands. If produce with skin intact can't make it from the store to my house in a reusable bag without becoming deadly, I'm not sure I should be eating them. Honestly, I'd be more concerned for the inside of my bag than the produce. Plastic bags or not, you should always give produce a lil' wash when you go to eat it. If I ever bring home anything that leaks into the bag, I'll toss it in the washer. Not a big deal. People need to be less paranoid - humans survived for hundreds of years without plastic covered fruit.

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  42. "Bag Police"
    Coming soon to a grocery store near you.

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  43. I put all meat containers, or anything that can leak for that manner, in a plastic bag before placing them in my reusable bags or panniers. Fruits and vegetables get washed or cooked before eating anyway, so those aren't a concern. Leaking meat juices or having a yogurt burst open in my panniers, now that's a concern!

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  44. Raw chicken always goes in a separate plastic bag when I use reusable bags. I've seen a person get sick from salmonella, and it is not a pretty sight. Not worth the risk to avoid using one bag IMHO. Vegetables can hang lose as far as I'm concerned.

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  45. The last time I shopped at a "regular" grocery store I bought 3 items (a card, a beverage, and a banana) and the cashier tried to put them in 3 separate bags, and then into a larger one. When I finally convinced her that I could put 2 in my purse and one in my hand, I actually saw her put the discarded bags in the trash. (!!) That being said all my reusable bags usually have a few old safeway bags shoved into them, ready for produce or frozen stuff. I don't carry bags with me all the time, just if I know I'm headed to the grocery store or farmer's market.

    As for the pannier - I do find that cashiers are more understanding of my desire for less packaging when they see an obvious bicycle container or helmet or something.

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  46. I'm totally addicted to envirosax shoulder bags (they fold into a very tiny space and don't take up a lot of space even if one's too lazy to fold them). I put them through the washing machine quite a lot, because I use them for laundry, and as shoe bags when travelling, as well as shopping, and yes, shove muddy, damp, leafy produce in directly at the farmer's market. I love them because if one accumulates enough it's very easy to have a couple in each pannier/bike basket and in any purse one regularly uses, so spontaneous shopping/library book fetching etc becomes easy, as they're handy to carry (full or empty) and much stronger than disposable bags. Lots of places sell them, but they're also available online at very reasonable prices (I think - about $9 for the big ones these days). They're mostly fairly gaudy designs (which I like!), but they also have a series called "greengrocer", I see, which has simple colours like "olive", "paprika", and "cinnamon".

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  47. One reusable bag for meat, one reusable bag for veg. I have well made large canvas bags and small nylon bags. The nylon is resists leaking, but they are all machine washable.

    I wash after buying meat or anything leaky, but not after buying canned goods.

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  48. I can't exactly recall where but there was one study that claimed paper bags to be more damaging to the environment than plastic bags.

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  49. Anon 2:46 - There are always debates about things like this. In part it depends on how a particular type of paper vs plastic bag is made. But on average, I believe that claim to be untrue. Also, the reason I get paper bags is that I have lots of use for them: mainly as packaging material.

    To Erin and others who 'segregate' their bags for meat vs vegetables: Where would dairy go, such as cheese?

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  50. Peppy (the amazing opposable thumbs cat)April 8, 2011 at 2:53 PM

    Personally, I think if you can't carry it in your teeth, you don't need it.

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  51. I'm a big fan of reusable bags (especiLly the newer nylon ones that roll up and snap into a tiny pouch about the size of a log of goat cheese! ) But I have to admit, I do welcome the extra plastic bags because I have had a few unpleasant incidents with leaky chicken or a tray of hamburger that somehow gets punctured in transit. I also have two dogs though, and I reuse all of the plastic bags that come into the house--they're always in short supply and the rest of my family saves their bags for us!

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  52. re: cheese. Wrapped in paper, put directly into big bag or in a Tyvek.

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  53. Peppy! But what about those custom panniers we're ordering for you?

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  54. GR Jim - Right. But I mean for those who use separate bags for raw meat vs fruit/vegetables, in which would they put cheese?

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  55. The more I see pictures of the Urbana the more it grows on me. Looking forward to your review.
    Chris

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  56. My parm wedges go in with the veggies when the Tyvek isn't available.

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  57. Peppy (the does it really support 160 lbs of cat? cat)April 8, 2011 at 3:25 PM

    I am sleeping on the rack right nao.

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  58. Chris - The rack design, and specifically its ability to accommodate any grocery bag, or any other bag with flat handles, is quite something. The bike itself is not something I would ride as my main bike, because I prefer classic upright bicycles to the MTB aesthetic and posture. But I can see owning it as a winter bike, totally.

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  59. Psshh - where have you been? (with all due respect :) I, in California no less, have a had a hard time on those occasions when I do not have my own bag, asking the clerk to only use one single plastic bag for five or six items. The default is to put three or so items in a plastic bag, and then double the bag. Then three or four in a second bag and double it. If my attention strays this is what happens.

    It is getting better. I know the clerks get in trouble with customers no matter what they do (some customers want the minimum, just one bag, some want all double bags and each meat/soap/frozen/fruit/vegi all given their own special single bag inside of the larger double bag apparatus.)

    I try to stay with what I want, through the disdain or confusion from the clerks and I believe their idea of a "norm" will expand to include those of us who do not want triple bagging on a piece of raw meat which is already in its own original plastic wrapping.

    I'll end my rant here with this...I don't blame the clerk. Working in customer service is an art. But I'm doing the right thing by being clear and consistent and not backing down with what I want as a customer.

    San Francisco banned plastic bags in large grocery and drug stores. The bag lobby suggested the world would end and society as we know it would collapse without unlimited and unreserved access to as many plastic bags as we can possibly get our mitts on. I like going into stores in SF and seeing that chaos has not ensued.

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  60. We use re-usable recycled bags almost exclusively.

    However, we will put raw meat into a plastic bag before placing it in a re-usable bag (we don't do this with produce). The reason is that I don't want meat juices to spill into the re-usable bag. That's gross. If the meat is in one of those "heat sealed" containers, fine, but often it is just closed up in plastic cling wrap and can leak.

    That said, we only buy raw meat about once a week.

    Also, we've tried washing our re-usable bags, and often they get destroyed doing so, so we generally don't ever wash them.

    I do encounter a general reluctance to forgo issuing me a bag when I'm on checking out. Clerks here are waking up to the fact that a lot of people reuse bags, but when I'm out in the boonies, forget it-- they still look at me like I'm from another planet if I say I don't need a bag (or they fail to hear it altogether and give me one anyway).

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  61. When I was a child, in Europe lots of people carried groceries in bags like these

    A friend of mine who grew up in DDR-Dresden once told me they called them Falls-Taschen: Falls es etwas im Laden gibt...

    I could swear I've seen them for sale at the Harvest Co-op, but I might be remembering them there from years ago.

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  62. I should also add, that those occasional plastic bags we get for transporting meat-- we use them as garbage bags once we're home. We don't buy household garbage bags. We just re-purpose the plastic supermarket ones as household garbage bags.

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  63. Chris Collins said...
    "Psshh - where have you been?"


    It has never been an issue, because I prefer frequent but small grocery trips and just dump whatever I buy directly into my pannier or roomy handbag. When you're a youngish couple, both of whom work and/or travel a lot, that often works better than "epic" grocery trips.

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  64. >> Chris Collins said...
    >> "Psshh - where have you been?"
    >
    > When you're a youngish couple, both of whom
    > work and/or travel a lot...

    Any perceived bitterness from me, is in fact bubbling
    jealousy at the beauty of your art, the purity of
    your pursuit of lovely bicycles, and resentment
    that the "cohabitant" got to you first.

    I'll try to be nice from now on.

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  65. funny, just today when apples, bananas, lemons and lime were dancing in the sunlight as they were happily rolling into my big messenger bag to join a wide variety of vegetables there... - just today i thought what a cheerful sight such a wild horn of plenty is!
    -
    all in one. of course. always. tennis shoes, notebook and everything else too. - meat, fish, cheese and bread in plastic or paper wrap.

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  66. have to correct myself: it was not the messenger bag. it was the big blue ikea bag that made me so happy today. - can only recommend it and will use it much more now.

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  67. Chris - I didn't think you were bitter : ) I just meant that I've certainly been aware of disposable bags, but did not find them personally useful. Plus I am so good at losing and destroying things like that, that their whole re-usability aspect might be lost on me. I guess we'll see how long these babies last. Now where did I put them again...

    Jens - in Austria, they put meat and cheese in these waxed paper wraps that do not leak. I've kept them in my laptop bag, next to the laptop...

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  68. jawohl. - waxed paper. - that is what i am talking about.

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  69. and on top a bouquet of wild flowers. - ah, the farmers market!!! - and the weekend newspaper stuffed somewhere in between (that is going to be tomorrow then).

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  70. I do double-bag meat... too many leaky packages in my experience, and lukewarm meat juices on the lettuce just really does not sound good to me. Everything else goes in loose.

    Ah, the string bag! These were everywhere in England when we lived there, but I have never seen them in the US. My mother, being a resourceful soul, simply crocheted some up for her own use when we got back to the States. They do pack down to nothing and are very useful.

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  71. People get paranoid about bacteria. It takes hours for a dangerous colony to develop with the right temp, water and protein. Wash them once in a while. The one good thing about the reusable bags is they fit perfectly in Wald folding baskets, and they have handles.

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  72. Yeah, I agree that people get overly and needlessly paranoid over bacteria. As a biologist for the past 16 years, I've worked with bacteria-- growing them in bioreactors to densities unheard of in nature (drug resistant strains, no less)! I've never once gotten sick from them. But raw meat juice is, frankly, gross, and it does smell nasty as it rots. Do I want it spilling in my reusable bag? No thanks. So raw meat gets a plastic bag... IF it's not sealed at the store.

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  73. I don't fret about the plastic bag bit too much. If I have an item that might leak or sweat, it gets one. If not, it goes in the bag loose.

    Some food stores have containers in which to deposit your used plastic shopping bags for recycling. Those that don't get re-purposed end up there.

    On a side note, I hate advertising for stores by purchasing on of "their" bags. I prefer generic ones, thanks.

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  74. I have to be careful here not to sound ignorant or condescending because I know that parts of what I'm going to say are dumb, maybe dangerous and just icky, I just don't know exactly which parts... But,for those of us that get some of our food by digging it out of the dirt in the backyard(don't call it a garden, you haven't seen it), grab berries,, mushrooms and asparagus from the ditches and fencerows and still kill a deer(or bear or feral hog) on occasion and drag it a mile or two through the woods and throw it in the back of the same truck we haul firewood and mulch and apples in, this is a subject that wears thin after awhile. I try to keep things clean and separate and sometimes do a pretty good job but, sometimes it's late, it's raining and I really just want to get the stupid onions off the porch and in a sack, or somebody has 100 pounds of potatoes and squash I can have if I take them right now and the truck still has transmission fluid all over the bed from some disaster I got ensnarled in last week. Don't we all sometimes just do the expedient thing and hope no one sees?

    I go to the grocery store and kick myself for forgetting the shopping bags, use a bunch of plastic bags, stuff them in another bag meaning to take them in to re-cycle but the day I can't stand the sight of them any longer I just throw them in the trash and haul them to the dump with everything else.

    This problem just seems to be more than I can keep up with. I can try to drive less and buy less gas, heat my house in a responsible way and some other things that I seem to be able to keep a grip on but I really don't give a s#$t about this anymore. I just try to remember to wash it well, cook it like it deserves to be prepared and eat it.

    I don't know if I've gained or lost some perspective on this. Who want's to come over to my house for dinner?

    Spindizzy

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  75. Ha : )

    Okay... I distinctly did not intend this as a moral/environmental issue and do not want to discuss things in terms of good vs bad choices, as well as in terms of us having to justify the bags we use. I use all sorts of disposable shopping bags on occasion and don't really care who sees me. Sustainability is complicated; there is more to it than using non-disposable bags and riding a bicycle.

    What I am saying however, is that there is a weird (interesting? puzzling?) disconnect between on the one hand, our society starting to popularise the idea of using non-disposable bags, and on the other hand, doing it in a way that at least somewhat defeats the purpose while retaining all of the inconvenience of the non-disposable bags. If people take the trouble to carry the darn thing with them everywhere, only to have the helpful cashier place each item they buy in its own plastic bag first, then... well, to me it doesn't make sense. It also does not make sense for the cashier to interfere in the customer's choice by making them feel weird or unsafe for not using plastic bags.

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  76. It doesn't make sense to you but it's a training issue, not a moralistic one. Maybe a little cultural, though.

    In fact, I may talk to the mgr. of one of my local stores tomorrow. Thanks for bringing it up.

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  77. my whole foods chicobag is pretty hardy. back when i used to dangle my purchases on the handlebar, it would occasionally hit the wheel (dangerous!) and survive the contact. also holds an amazing amount.

    not sure what the fear of germ contamination is because i have bags solely dedicated to groceries and others to cooked foods and still others to clothes. the grocery bag is the only one i purchased (i really only need one, the bag goes in the basket, and rest of delicate items like eggs go in the messenger bag). other bags i received as part of another purchase or free at fairs. i also wash my fruits and vegetables before eating which i'm assuming other people do, too. so still not sure where the fear of cross contamination.

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  78. I use reusable bags, I don't get nitpicky about smaller bags though. For instance if it's the produce bags you put them in with a twisty tie at the produce section, I use those, but not to prevent bacteria, just to keep them from getting banged up/ending up everywhere. That along with everything else goes in the reusable bag. There is a reason why you're supposed to wash fruits and vegetables before eating... they aren't exactly clean to being with. I'm sure the bacteria love living on the fruit/vegetables with all their nutrients rather than the bag.

    Do whatever makes you happy says the med student.

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  79. Some of the comments above about bacteria are right. People tend to fear bacteria too much. We totally forgot that all living things evolved/mutate from bacteria. Loosely speaking, we are big blobs of a colony of bacteria working together. XD

    I notice a trend. The older generation don't fear bacteria as much as the younger generation.

    Sure there are certain kinds of bacteria that one needs to be careful with. The ones that feed on raw meat etc... I don't store meat and veggies together partly for this reason.

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  80. Oh gosh, the bacteria rumour was started by the plastic industry to try stop the banning of plastic bags that is happening all over. The only thing you should worry about is meat(if at all). I work in the food industry and the last thing you need to worry about is bacteria in your pannier from food touching each other. Food is grown, then it is picked, sorted, labelled, boxed, shipped, sent to distribution centres, put on trucks and sorted and displayed in stores. That's a lot of hands and potential mishaps. I've seen boxes of lettuce drenched in coffee. We're made of much stronger stuff than that and it's kind of rude for the cashier to try force bags on you and make you feel bad. I toss everything into my panniers. I work at an organicy grocery store and will either use a paper bag that the ginger, garlic type stuff came in to keep things together-and plastic if I need some at home. It all goes back to the recycling depot by bicycle anyway. I recommend using the paper bags in the mushroom section as the paper can be used for starting fires in woodstoves, cut up for scrap paper, composted or actually reused as lunch bags etc..
    Wherever I shop, they ask first if you want paper or plastic or if you have a bag. I think clerks are used to people not using bags for their fruit/veg at least in my alternate west coast reality. Because we don't want to drag our panniers all over the store, my husband and I just put everything back in the basket, take it outside, load panniers and return the basket.
    and any shop I go to gives you a little discount for bringing your own bags/not using bags.
    Note: I do know people who WASH AND REUSE plastic bags-that's not a good idea however eco you think you are being. Heating up plastic creates gassing off of the toxins in plastic, and plastic degrades over time and the toxins will leach into food. Those reusable bags stores are handing out left and right are made of plastic but look kind of like cloth. Best thing is to have some cloth bags that you can rewash once in awhile. I have seen beautiful silk bags for fruits and veggies which could easily be made.

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  81. When I happen to be within biking range of a store, I just get paper bags, put 'em in the pannier baskets, and use 'em for recycling and garbage when I get home. They'll break down in the garbage eventually, unlike plastic, and they're totally recyclable as well. The ones with handles are really nice. If the meat leaks, well, that's a "garbage" bag then.

    Didn't like the reusables. I was always forgetting them. Now they tote soccer stuff around for the kids and such. Paper rules. I don't buy garbage bags, we throw the full bags out more frequently so the kitchen doesn't get stinky, and they're being reused. They fit perfectly in my pannier baskets, too.

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  82. Velouria, I'm a 'separator', mainly because I always have so many fruits and veggies that they warrant their own bag. Dairy and eggs get piled in haphazardly with meat in the 'things-destined-for-the-fridge' bag (with only poultry double wrapped), whilst bag #3 is for dry/canned edibles such as dry pulses, flour, spices, cereals etc.

    I never worry about bacteria (except for salmonella in poultry - which is why I very very rarely buy chicken, and then only free-range organic) and I don't think I've ever washed my cotton bags. Perhaps I ought to treat them to a wash this weekend!

    As for the inconvenience of carrying bags everywhere I go...well that's the blessing of organic cotton string bags like this one : http://www.naturalnursery.co.uk/reusable-shopping-bags/coloured-reusable-string-bag-fairtrade-organic-cotton.html, which are so light and stowable that you hardly know you're carrying them. I keep a couple at the bottom of my bike basket and they're always there when I need them.

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  83. Yeah bacteria is good for you...next time carry the sunday porkchops in the underware, that way you solve Mondays problem too!

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  84. Doesn't research show that there more bacteria on our hands than in our underwear? : )

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  85. I have seen studies that show the kitchen sink has more bacteria than the toilet seat, but not the hands to underwear comparison.

    Stores I shop at all try to double bag the meat and cleaning supplies. I am OK with an occasional extra plastic bag. Because I have 2 dogs, they see double 'doody'.

    I just went grocery shopping at large chain store in Malaysia and the cashier asked me if I wanted plastic. I told her yes, and she informed me that it would be 20 cents. I said 'no thanks' and put everything in my back pack without any protest from her. She seemed far more concerned that I hadn't signed my Amex card than that I was putting un-bagged vegetables in the back pack.

    A word of caution about frozen fish . . . when they say thaw in the fridge, heed the warning. I did not and became very ill.

    It's astonishing how many comments this not exactly bicycle related post has generated.

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  86. "The one good thing about the reusable bags is they fit perfectly in Wald folding baskets, and they have handles. "

    Yes! An absolute perfect fit. You'd think they were designed together. Plus, the reusable bags increase the capacity of the Walds by half. I buy the reusables with the foil liner and the cheap zippered top and snap the handles in the rat trap. Can get the groceries home in through a potholed war zone that way.

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  87. This made me laugh. I've lived in lots of cities and never had this problem at the checkout, except at one store, where it was sometimes a battle: Shaw's, Porter Square, Cambridge. Maybe there is something about the local culture? Or maybe the woman checking me out now works at your grocery store. :)

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  88. I'm not an uber-germaphobe, but I do have a small child which means we all get sick more frequently now just because she goes to school, isn't as vigilant, etc. I usually bring my reusable bags in to SuperTarget (where I do most of my shopping) or Aldis (other main grocery place) because of the cost. Target gives you 5 cents per bag and Aldis does not give you free bags. I do bag meats with the thin baggies they provide if they are from the 'fresh' meat section, but not if it is from the frozen section. I bag produce only if it needs to be (like small roma tomatoes). It's mainly because if I didn't, the cashier cannot weigh 8 roma tomatoes on the digital devices if they are scattered all over and they may also fall thru my shopping cart. When I do receive plastic shopping bags from Target (if I've bought more than fits in my reuseable bags) then those bags are used for my kitchen trash. I haven't actually bought trash bags in years because I use shopping bags for them. We recycle a lot so our actual household trash is not great in quantity so a Target bag is often all we need and lasts us nearly all week.

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  89. I gave up on trying to remember to wash and bring reusable bags to the grocer, and then have the cashier try to plastic bag everything before cloth bagging it. I just couldn't get it through their heads that I didn't need both. And at my store, it seems like they have trained the employees to bag every single item separately. So I surrendered. Besides, all of those plastic bags are great for scooping out the litter box.

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  90. "Doesn't research show that there more bacteria on our hands than in our underwear? : ) "

    Maybe you can solve any hand soreness by wrapping a tenderloin round the bars, should look really classy!

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  91. I use canvas bags all the time. I always have one with me, which I use basically as a purse and carry to work and everything. That's a big help when I want to pick up a bottle of wine or a few small things. When I make a dedicated grocery shopping trip, I bring about six canvas bags with me. I throw in all the vegetables loose. The meat I have to wrap in one of those very thin plastic bags, because if I don't, the cashier will have to do it and then give me a nasty look. I think it is store policy due to the possibility of salmonella.

    Every now and then I throw the canvas bags in with the regular laundry, no big deal. Too many people are too worried about germs. The ridiculously wide spread use of antibiotics in America is making things worse. I've never taken an antibiotic, nor do I use antibacterial soap.

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  92. Rebecita said...
    "As for the pannier - I do find that cashiers are more understanding of my desire for less packaging when they see an obvious bicycle container or helmet or something."


    That's a good point. It also occurred to me that my "faux wicker" Fastrider pannier looks like an old-timey grocery shopping bag, giving the cashier less cause to question it.

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  93. I have those bags too Veloria. http://www.reuseit.com/store/ecobags®-earthtone-cotton-string-with-hemp-stuffsack-p-163.html
    I've been using them regularly for several years and they last and last. I use them for all my things, not just produce.

    My produce specific bags are these....
    http://www.amazon.com/Organic-Cotton-Reusable-Mesh-Produce/dp/B002TK00RW

    I've found that one of the best sources for good, affordable, long lasting, heavy canvas shopping bags is the thirft store.

    I also like Chico Bags to keep in my purse for those unexpected stops at the store when I don't have my huge bag full of bags with me.
    http://www.chicobag.com/p-16-chicobag-original.aspx

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  94. I for one see no reason to use a reusable bag if you are going to first use a plastic bag. As long as the items are not leaking I have no issue putting everything in the reusable bag. I have been doing it this way for years and never once have I had issues with contamination nor has anyone gotten sick from eating the produce. Also it is common practice in my household to clean our raw foods before eating them.

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  95. My grocery store provides scanners and plastic and reusable bags at the front door. You scan and bag as you shop, give the scanner to the cashier, pay and leave. I usually shop with my reusable bags slung over my arm (a la shopping in a market in France).

    The funny thing is that when I go to a store like Target and empty my reusable bag at the register so that the cashier can ring up my items I always have to stop him or her and remind them that I want them to put my items back into the bag they just came out of. The cashier often asks me really strange questions like "Will it all fit?" or "Is that going to be too heavy for you?" I have to remind him or her that I just finished walking around the store with the same items in the same bag, so there should not be any problems.

    Meanwhile, the city across the boarder from me recently enacted a plastic bag tariff ($0.05 per bag). It is so refreshing to shop there with my reusable bags because the cashiers expect it.

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  96. Oh please...the grocery checkers just don't get it. I do exactly what you do Velouria. The less we use the less we have to eventully reuse or throw away. I never reuse a bag that has meat in it, period. Everything else I will wash the bags.

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  97. drives me razy. I will say I don't buy a lot of meat but when I do I place it right along with the groceries. Even whole foods does this and puts things like costmectics or small things in little paper bags. The meat is often from whole foods and paper wrapped so I don't worry about leakage. I do worry about leakage with groc store chicken and will use a bag for those but now that I have a CSA for meat I rarely buy it in either place and when I do- I go for whole foods just cuz.

    Checkers LOVE to double bag cleaning supplies too. I also hate double bags be it plastic or paper.

    I do need to give my bags a washing though and wonder how to recycle the ones that are a bit old and sad and needing to not be used for food etc....

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  98. I'm a little late to the party - but I found some cloth bags at a local discount store for a buck a piece. They have nice long handles that can be tied together, and are made of a fairly light cloth, so they're washable. I really don't care if they say they came from the first bank of whatever, because they're getting immediately stowed in a bike basket or in my car, so they won't be seen too much. If they get funked up, they go in the wash with the rest of my clothes.

    As for veggies...who cares? The meat - I'll ask for paper bags to wrap the meat, and then compost them. The only veggie that bugs me is onions, because the paper goes everywhere. I'll ask for paper on those as well. Most of the time I bag my own groceries, and if I don't, I'm a regular enough customer in my little Hamlet's shop that they know my peculiarities anyway.

    Oh yeah - I have a grading system at school where I need two manila folders per child (19 students), one for graded work, and one to-be-graded. The graded work folders get pretty large, and if I need to carry them home, they also go in a grocery bag.

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  99. My wife and I have 2 insulated bags that we carry in addition to our cloth bags. One for meat and one for other items that need refrigeration like cheese and milk.

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  100. Doesn't research show that there more bacteria on our hands than in our underwear? : )

    You're comparing apples and oranges. Our shirt cuffs versus our underwear? Or our hands versus our crotch area? I would argue that there is far more bacteria in our crotch area than on our hands, but that's more from sweat and heat than anything else, and the fact that we wash our hands many times a day. Plus, the "demographics" are totally different. We have a highly hierarchical flora of bacterial and yeast species all over our bodies. But in terms of sheer numbers, my money is, um... down there.

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  101. Peppy (the amazing self-sterilizing cat)April 11, 2011 at 5:05 PM

    Not me. I don't have any bacteria down there because I lick it clean constantly.

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  102. I decline the extra plastic bags and put my groceries directly into my reusable grocery bag, usually the meat in its own bag. Then I wash the bags that have had meat in them.

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  103. here in Ireland we have a plastic bag levy, everyone either uses reusable bags or pays €.22 per bag. the exception is a bag for meat. I very carefully avoid all excess packaging as far as possible. while I wouldn't want meat juice dripping all over my other stuff the idea of worrying about a bit of dirt from unwashed veg makes no sense to me, has everyone lost touch with where food comes from?....when I am in the US and a cashier bags thing anyway after being asked not to I am quite happy to take the items out of their bag and put them in mine and leave theirs on the counter.

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  104. "meat juice" cracks me up. Are you referring to blood, pus and mucus?

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