Grocery Guide

The Lost Art of Sacking Groceries: Five Rules for Sackers

Ok, this is on me, but even the cat is wondering why you put those green onions under the spaghetti squash.
Ok, this is on me, but even the cat is wondering why you put those green onions under the spaghetti squash. Photo by Tommy Hemmert Olesen via Flickr
It almost never fails. You do your big shop, maybe on a Sunday. You bring your reusable bags because you're good with the earth like that. You line up everything on the little conveyor belt at the checkout stand to make it easy to separate: produce, boxes and cans, cold stuff, meat, bread and eggs in the back. You do everything in your power to protect yourself AND make it easier on the people who will be placing the things you'll stuff in your mouth into a bag.

You pay. You get your stuff. You head to the car. What's that you see? Your chips are under your oranges? How is that even possible? Wait, is that fresh parsley underneath the chicken breasts and they are under two cans of black beans? What in the hell is happening?

Welcome to grocery shopping in the modern era. I speak from personal knowledge because I spent two years of my high school life working as a sacker at a Kroger. That was a few years ago now, but I still remember how to do it. And, let's be honest, it's not that tough. The gig of sacking sucks (try dragging carts in from the parking lot under the Houston summer sun), but putting things in bags is not rocket science. I'd do it myself if I weren't busy paying for them. Besides, if that's a job, shouldn't it be a well done job?

Anyway, for any sacker who might be rolling his or her eyes at me and thinking, "You're that ass face who was annoyed his Swiss chard was on the bottom of the bag." Yeah, that was me. And, no, you don't get to make fun of my Swiss chard, not when you shove it under two bags of sweet potatoes. What? I'm trying to be healthy dammit! Here are some rules for you, my friend.

Rule 5: Don't use five plastic bags when one will do.

I sometimes forget to bring reusable bags and there are plenty of Houstonians who don't have them at all, but that doesn't mean anyone wants to schlep 50 bags when we only bought like 30 things. I once, and I swear to all that is holy I'm not making this up, I got a plastic bag with one bulb of garlic in it despite another 10 or 15 bags of groceries. Not only is that wasteful, but seriously, what are you doing?

Rule 4: Don't overpack either.

I can't count the number of times I've picked up one bag and it's roughly the weight of 30 cotton balls only to pick up the second bag which weighs only slightly less than a full grown hippo and is about as easy to manage. It is understood that, sometimes, a bag will need to be really light — multiple bags of chips, for example, might only fit in one. And, it is equally understandable that one bag might be slightly heavier. Imbalances happen. But, when the disparity is so noticeable that I have to start switching carrying arms to make sure one doesn't look like it has been in a cast for a month while the other looks like Popeye, that's too much. And while we're on the subject, try not to balance stuff way at the top. It falls over on the first turn out of the parking lot.

Rule 3: Do ask if I want anything separate.

This is most common for meat to keep salmonella out of my strawberries. But, also really delicate stuff like eggs and bread or even cleaning products. Lord knows, no one wants their blueberries served in Windex sauce.

Rule 2: Do show me where you put the delicate stuff.

Not only is it a good rule of thumb so I don't heave a dozen eggs into my backseat with reckless abandon — what, I thought it was a bag of juice? — but it helps me know you've put them somewhere safe. When I see you looking around randomly in my cart for a spot for the bread and then catch you cramming it in between two bags full of heavy stuff, it's going to be a problem for both of us. Just say, "Hey, buddy, your eggs are right here, ok?" It's up to me to acknowledge it and pay attention (believe me, I'll get to complaints about grocery store customers soon enough).

Rule 1: Do treat certain fruits and vegetables like bread or eggs.

All jokes about Swiss chard aside, lots of vegetables and fruits bruise. Those peaches don't have quite the protection that the oranges do and cilantro doesn't do very well trapped under a bag of onions. Assume that leafy stuff and anything that is a little soft to the touch needs to be as close to the top (or at least away from heavy stuff) as possible.
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Jeff Balke is a writer, editor, photographer, tech expert and native Houstonian. He has written for a wide range of publications and co-authored the official 50th anniversary book for the Houston Rockets.
Contact: Jeff Balke