When my husband and I first moved from stage 1 to stage 2 of our relationship (that is, from the talking-on-the-phone-having-dinner-together-regularly stage to the more serious indication of commitment, the going-to-the-grocery-store-together stage), he spent a lot of time fussing about how the groceries were loaded in the cart, how they were distributed on the belt, and how they were bagged. What a lot of nonsense, I thought; much ado about nothing. Over time, he has educated me and opened my eyes to the ways of correct grocery bagging. It’s like being initiated into a cult, only without having hand out flowers in airports.
About two months ago something happened that doesn’t very often. We went to the grocery store, and the bagger did an outstanding job of bagging our groceries. It was as though they hadn’t been taught what seem to be the unspoken rules at my grocery store: “Make sure there’s something cold in every bag,” and “Make sure there’s something soft on the top of every bag.”
An article in today’s Seattle Times echoes my trials. It also reports on a grocery bagging contest, which I know that almost none of the baggers from my regular grocery store would stand a pint of Ben & Jerry’s chance in an oven of winning. In the contest, they bag the groceries, and then the bags are cut apart with a box cutter and the groceries are supposed to stand there by themselves! What a joy that would be!
My shopping trip is highly organized. I make my list by section: Produce, Meat, Canned, Pantry, Dairy, Frozen, Bakery, Deli, and Other. Other is comprised of things like cleaning supplies, paper goods, cat food, and drug items. Pantry is anything not produce and not refrigerated that isn’t canned—flour, spices, crackers.
We go first to the produce section, so that the produce can be safely stored under the baby seat area where it won’t get crushed. Then we go around to meat and dairy. The baking needs aisle, and the canned goods aisle are next, followed by things like cookies and crackers. Then we do cleaning supplies. Wine, frozen food, and bakery are last. I’d rather do frozen food right after meat and dairy, but the layout of the store is such that it’s easier to do panty goods before frozen. I suck it up.
With this method I can unload the cart in the following order: pantry goods, bakery, cold foods (frozen and dairy), meat, cleaning supplies, and produce last. In spite of the fact that I group all the cold foods together, all the meat together, and all the produce together, it still winds up spread through every single bag. And to add insult to injury, they manage to put a package of bread or letuce on top of every single bag. This means that when we put everything in the car, the bags can’t be stacked on top of one another. They all require their own space on the floor.
This whole experience is a combination of maddening and entertaining. It’s almost amusing to see how the bags will be put together this week. Will all the cheese from the deli section be on the bottom of a bag again with the apples and pears on top of it? Will the box of aluminum foil be stuck down into the bag that has the tomatoes and mushrooms? Will there be one bag with nothing but six cans of beans and orange slices in it? (Hint to grocery store baggers: the hot dog rolls can go on top of something like this.) Can they manage to get one cold thing in every bag?
Then one week we had a bagger who got it all right. I was floored. I took the bags to the kitchen, and began pawing through for the cold things. There wasn’t anything in the bag with the produce. Nothing in the bag with the canned goods. Why…why…here they all were—together, in one bag! I’ve never seen that bagger again.
I think the reason that the quality of the bagging is so low is because it’s usually kids who are employed to bag groceries, and kids don’t usually spend much time unloading groceries, nor are they well schooled in food safety, on subjects like cross contamination. This seems to be the case most of the time at my usual market—the baggers are mostly high school kids. However, I will say that one of the worst baggers I know is a woman at one of the other grocery stores I go to occasionally, who is by far old enough to know better. I think some people just don’t get it, period. And I’ll grant that it’s not the most fascinating topic for a cocktail party conversation, but if you love food, you care about what you’re choosing, and you care about what condition it’s in when it reaches your house. That makes the bagging process important.
I did stop at the Safeway last week, and I bought five things: carpet cleaner, a magazine, cream of tartar, baking soda, and a plant. Because I went through the express lane, the checker was also the bagger. While she did put everything in a single plastic bag, she took great care to wrap the carpet cleaner in a couple of smaller plastic bags, and even remarked that she thought that way even if it leaked, it wouldn’t contaminate my pantry goods. Clearly she was in training for the contest.