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The Lost Art of Bagging Groceries Logically

Updated on August 27, 2011

Most likely you've seen me as you enter the grocery store.

No, not the greeter who hands you a cart so you won't have to work it loose from 32 other carts in the line, but the woman off to the side standing over a cart transferring the contents of a half-dozen bags of groceries into two.

Mind you, when I got in line at the checkout, all of the items in those half-dozen bags were in the cart's Kiddie Seat, a space roughly 2.5 feet X 8 inches X 8 inches. I even qualifed for the lane marked "20 Items or Less". I always have 20 items or less. I live on the third floor of a building with no elevator, and whatever I buy has to go up in one trip. Well, it doesn't HAVE to, but after hauling one load up two flights of stairs, I'd rather not do it again any time soon.

Weight is the other consideration. There's a reason I don't buy a gallon of milk, a 10 lb. bag of sugar, and a giant jug of detergent in the same shopping trip. Did that once. Huge mistake. Both arms were an inch longer for a week.

But even if I didn't live at the top of two flights of stairs, it defies all logic for grocery clerks to use so many bags for an order that in the Old Days would've required no more than one paper bag, with room to spare.

Ah, The Good Old Days...

Before plastic bags became the norm, grocery baggers seemed to understand the relationship of mass to space available, and took great pride in fitting your purchases neatly into as few paper bags as possible.

In hindsight, this may've had less to do with good customer service than keeping trips to the storeroom to replenish the supply of those heavy bags to a minimum.

But I like to think they did it for customer satisfaction, because even when the weather outside was crappy, they'd still offer to take the bags out to your car. Now that I think about it, that was also before cart corrals were invented, and if you didn't take the bag boy's offer of assistance, you had to roll the cart back into the store yourself. (That is, if you couldn't park it somewhere near your car where it wouldn't roll into another car after you'd emptied it.)

Depending on the time of day you shopped, the bagger might be a retired gentlemen keeping busy during the day, or the neighbor kid down the street working after school. If the first, you knew the groceries would be packed logically with the weight distributed evenly, owing to years of carrying his own groceries in from the car. And the neighbor kid knew better than to put your eggs in the bottom, under the canned vegetables, or there'd be hell to pay because his mother would've heard about it before he ever got home that night. Which meant you could concentrate on making sure your items rang up at the correct price.

These days, you rarely see the same bagger twice, if there is one.

To shave the almighty bottom line, many stores now require the checker to check and bag. If it's a store where the checker slides your items into the bagging section of the checkout console until they're all rung up, great! But if there is a second person bagging during the ringing up, you have to make like a spectator at a tennis match to be sure you're being charged correctly and the eggs aren't going in the bottom of the bag.

Eggs in the bottom of flimsy plastic bags is why I began re-bagging before leaving the store.

It just got to be a waste of time and breath to explain the physics of a carton of eggs hitting a hard surface if the bag was dropped, which had happened several times (luckily not with eggs) when the handle gave way. Asking very nicely to please put the toilet paper in the bottom "to cushion the eggs", got only a blank stare from one bagger.

It was just just simpler to let them bag any which way, using more bags than necessary, then re-bag it all myself. This also eliminated the need to ask for double-bagging (those two flights of stairs, remember).

There seems to be no logic to bagging anymore

In stores where the checker has a plastic bag carousel and bags everything as it's rung up, there seems to be no logic whatsoever to bagging.

I assumed all had received some sort of training on this subject, and began looking for a common method. I was certain I'd found the key when several checkers bagged items in the order the customer put them on the conveyor.


But this was apparently a fluke.

On my next trip to that store, I placed my items on the conveyor in the order I wanted them bagged. Frozen and cold items together (including a half-gallon of milk), then a 3 lb can of coffee with several "dry" items that weighed nothing. Bringing up the rear was a 5 lb bag of sugar and a package of toilet paper.

Well, that checker must've been out sick on Bag Training Day, because instead of taking things in the order in which I'd grouped them, she rang up the sugar and put it in a bag, then the coffee which went it with the sugar, then the milk. Meaning every single heavy item was in one flimsy plastic bag! Naturally, the toilet paper and everything that weighed nothing went into the next bag. Which left the few frozen items, which could've easily fit into space left in the t.p. bag, but noooo...they went into a bag all by themselves!

On the next trip, I bought milk (half-gallon), Febreez, and aspirins. That was it. One bag? Wrong. Three. Because, the checker explained, they're not allowed to "mix" chemicals (the Febreez) with food (the milk), and "medicine" (the aspirins) must also be segregated. Oddly, these rules don't apply if you bring your own bags. Go figure.

Re-bagging hasn't necessarily been eliminated by bringing my own, one insulated bag for cold items, and one canvas for non-perishables. If I'm only getting a few items, I'll put the canvas bag inside the insulated one before handing it to the checker, otherwise (I've learned from experience), she/he will put the milk in the insulated bag by itself and everything else in the canvas.

But the last trip has to take the cake.

When I rolled up to the checkout, everything I was buying that day was in the canvas bag. The checker even watched as I pulled each item out and placed it on the conveyor, followed by the bag. After ringing up, she put everything back into it except a rather sturdy loaf of garlic bread, which she put into a plastic bag. Said it all wouldn't fit "comfortably" (her words) in the one bag, but I certainly had no problem making the garlic bread fit...quite comfortably too!...out in the foyer of the store.


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