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Silly Whole Foods
Topic Rating: +2 (2 votes) 
July 21, 2012
6:42 am
Mary Anne
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I agree, this is quite a situation!    I was unaware of it.  I am totally with you...as I carry my own whenever possible. This all stinks, as I have been going to food coops since the 70s w/o problems with my own containers. But lets discuss the issue from "their" (WF) point of view to understand it better.

A. I wonder if stores are getting stricter due to Salmonella outbreaks, and other recent health issues.  They don't want to be sued and there are a number of ways they could open themselves up for that.   I can imagine they will create a mandated store policy not to allow this "cross contamination" (thats what its called in food sanitation terms) as the issue gets more well known and public. 

The question is then, what can we all do to enact change?  Perhaps the change will have to be in baby steps, or settling for WF dispensing folding biodegradable paper containers...made waterproof by a natural, non plastic substance. We NEED to make it public loud and clear though...regardless of why they won't allow it, they have a DUTY to figure it out because they call themselves "a green company," right?

 

B. I think they also do not want to be dealing with broken glass (it happens in grocery stores...I once worked in one) , and to sterilize containers "on site" would take thousands of dollars in retrofitting.  Maybe hundreds of thousands.  At least with Oberweiss the glass bottles are collected somewhere and taken away to the plant that will sterilize them. They are uniform in size, and big/heavy enough to not break.  Smaller bulk food containers would be much more difficult to stack, package, and where would they go to be sterilized?

At the least, and safest, paper containers might be an alternate solution, should it become mandated by law everywhere NOT to allow bringing one's own containers into a store.  Why aren't biodegradable waterproof coatings being made for paper and cardboard packaging?  Because the research funding is always in creating new and different plastics. Sad.

July 29, 2013
1:44 pm
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I have seen signs at several Whole Foods also stating to use only the containers provided, and I've been reprimanded by cashiers and store managers. They will not weigh your containers, but if you have the tare weight already and go ahead and fill your containers from the bulk bins, the cashier will just sort of give you a warning. It does seem to be store-by-store though, as some are still okay with it.

July 29, 2013
4:04 pm
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CottonBottomMama said
'I have seen signs at several Whole Foods also stating to use only the containers provided, and I've been reprimanded by cashiers and store managers. They will not weigh your containers, but if you have the tare weight already and go ahead and fill your containers from the bulk bins, the cashier will just sort of give you a warning. It does seem to be store-by-store though, as some are still okay with it.'

 

Bea Johnson who writes the Zero Waste Home shops at Whole Foods in Marin County where the store seems more conducive to customers bringing in very very clean reusable containers for bulk foods. 
 
Used my own stainless and glass Mason jars at the store in Sacramento, and I think the key is 'very very very clean' stainless or glass.  I also take my own clean clean white cotton bags for nuts, fruits, vegetables.  And they are washed before I go to the store, and if I see a stain on one of the cotton bags I leave it home. Thankfully I have a dozen homemade white cotton muslin bags
 
I need to ask on the Whole Foods forums about how to get WF to make it permissible for customers to bring their own really clean containers to the store like we do our own clean cloth grocery bags.
 
Alas I think WF may see some not so clean clean containers from some customers and then say 'no' because they fear liability issues if the WF clean food is in a not so clean customer container and the customer gets sick and then wants to blame WF.
 
 
July 29, 2013
4:45 pm
Elizabeth
Guest

Luckily, I have not had a problem with this yet at our Whole Foods, but I live in an area where almost nobody else brings their own container, so I don't think the management has really taken notice.  It's disappointing that some people's bad habits (using unclean containers) has to affect everyone.  I always make sure to wash all bags and containers every time I use them.

July 30, 2013
9:37 am
Amy
Guest

The food co-op where I shop allows using ones own chosen containers for buying food in bulk, and they provide a scale for getting the tare weight on them.  They also serve prepared food in the deli and coffee shop and thus have a dishwasher on the premises.  The glass jars they use in the deli kitchen are run through the dishwasher and then put out in the bulk area for customers to use.  So that might be one option for Whole Foods (though, granted, this co-op isn't so big as the WF I've been to).  Where I do come up against a problem with them is that they don't allow customers to use their own containers at the deli and salad bar.  They've told me it's a health regulation.  This is something I'd like to pursue with them further at some point.  They try to provide "eco-friendly" boxes for putting such purchases in, but I'd be happy to put my salad in my own reusable container.  There's always something!

September 6, 2013
2:21 pm
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CottonBottomMama said
I have seen signs at several Whole Foods also stating to use only the containers provided, and I've been reprimanded by cashiers and store managers. They will not weigh your containers, but if you have the tare weight already and go ahead and fill your containers from the bulk bins, the cashier will just sort of give you a warning. It does seem to be store-by-store though, as some are still okay with it.

Where do you live?  I live in Oakland, CA, and I have never had a problem with any Whole Foods near me giving me an issue with using my own containers.  I believe all of Northern California is like that.  But different areas may have different rules.  I would write to the company and request that all stores allow customers to bring their own to reduce waste.

September 9, 2013
11:52 am
Jo
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I live in Minneapolis and that happened to me too. Because of it I've sworn off whole foods forever. I already didn't like them because the owner's politics are so bent- but when they told me I couldn't use my own jars I walked right out of the store. They said it was for health code reasons. I protested saying I bring my own jars to all the local coops where they have signs ENCOURAGING shoppers to do just that. The person I spoke to said that this was a policy they must follow bc whole foods was international and they had to adhere to higher regulations than the local coop. For me it's not worth fighting with whole foods. I don't like supporting their corporate machine regardless. I just bring my jars to the coops.

September 10, 2013
5:54 pm
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I think it's better to support your local coop anyway. The only reason I mentioned Whole Foods in my book is that in many areas, it is the only place to shop where you can potentially bring your own container and purchase from bulk bins. It's true, however, that not all the stores have the same policies. I say, support your coop and send Whole Foods a letter explaining why you can no longer shop there.

October 25, 2013
10:58 am
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Beth Terry said

CottonBottomMama said
I have seen signs at several Whole Foods also stating to use only the containers provided, and I've been reprimanded by cashiers and store managers. They will not weigh your containers, but if you have the tare weight already and go ahead and fill your containers from the bulk bins, the cashier will just sort of give you a warning. It does seem to be store-by-store though, as some are still okay with it.

Where do you live?  I live in Oakland, CA, and I have never had a problem with any Whole Foods near me giving me an issue with using my own containers.  I believe all of Northern California is like that.  But different areas may have different rules.  I would write to the company and request that all stores allow customers to bring their own to reduce waste.

I am in the Chicago area. The WF stores here are pretty friendly with bringing your own container. The River Forest one used to have signs, but I wrote them a letter, and they took the signs down. I'm not sure whether my letter made a difference, but I'll take it! The Lincoln Park one has scales that will print out a label for you, making checkout smoother. Unfortunately, the computer scales don't allow you to tare your container–they are just set up to tare the containers they provide. I used to live in Omaha, and they would chastise me every time I tried to use my containers. St. Louis also makes it difficult. I have provided written feedback.

The deli/meat/fish counter is even worse–I gave up trying to bring containers there. They would insist on weighing everything on plastic film and would use plastic gloves for everything. If my purchase requires them to put on new plastic gloves and use plastic film to weigh it, what is the point of bringing my own container? Confused

 

October 26, 2013
6:30 am
Michel
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I moved back to central Florida, after living a few years in the Inland Northwest.  So easy to be green up there!!  

So far, most stores have been agreeable to my practices. I have always used my own bags, 28 years now, and also my own produce/bulk bags. After reading Bea Johnson's book, I kicked it up a notch, with glass containers, among other things. 

My Whole Foods and Fresh Market are overwhelmingly supportive of what I do.The local  health food store refills my jars with bulk spices and peanut butter.  I have even found an olive oil store that refills (after initial purchase  of their bottle)  olive oil and vinegar. 

I'm writing this because, my goal isn't perfection. It's to do better. Always learning. Always aiming to do my best. The people working behind the food counters are probably told to wear gloves. Personally, for the safety of all, I don't see an alternative. You could request the gloves and perhaps try to biodegrade them in your compost pile. I do realize another pair will be made in their place.  But that pair won't make it to a landfill, where it will never biodegrade. 

I don't believe I will achieve 100 % in this day and age ( my diabetic dog needs syringes, made of plastic) but I do aim for that goal. 

When you see something you want to change, don't complain to the person behind the counter, they have little control over the rules, even the store manager may not be able to help you. Call. Yes, the CEO. I set aside time each week to make phone calls to request better packaging, etc. Ask the question: "what can be done to improve this situation?"  Companies need to hear from us. 

While we need to do better, think how far we've come. I have been teased, over the years,  for some of my practices ( like using  cloth diapers and making homemade chalk, even my sister thought I was crazy making the kid's stencils from cardboard cut-outs as opposed to buying new plastic ones), just last night the cashier commended my efforts and said she wished more would do the same. 

Last, I received my package of toilet paper ( I order online, post consumer waste, wrapped in paper in a box). The packing tape was plastic. I know there is packing tape that is biodegradeable (bought some from U-Haul for my trip here). Anyway, Amazon likes feedback. I requested no more plastic tape. It will be a few months before I order more, hoping to see a change. 

Together, we will make a difference. 

 

 

January 23, 2014
5:50 pm
Nancy
Guest

I was disappointed after I was told at a farmer's market bagel stand that it was against the health code to use my own bag for bagels. So I looked it up, and there has been an amendment to the 2013 FDA regulations regarding reusable containers. It's labelled 3-304.17, and it says that a consumer can't use a container to refill at a food establishment unless the food establishment sanitizes it first. There are other ridiculous aspects to the regulation, but it pretty much puts an end to bringing in containers. I'm hoping I'm reading it werong, and I'm really bummed.

 

I just finished Beth's book, which was awesome.

April 1, 2014
4:50 pm
Meredith
Guest

YES! I have had the same problem. I just moved to Chicago and they kept telling me different things, but Whole foods officially won't let me use my CLEAN glass containers.  Yell

 

And in Silly Chicago it's basically the only reasonably affordable place where you can buy things in bulk. Needless to say I don't know if I'm ever going back.

 

 

July 25, 2014
9:35 pm
Mindy
Guest

I lived in western Mass up until last summer and was told the same thing at the WF there, that I couldn't bring my own containers for bulk, meat, etc, but I could use my own cloth produce bags.  The local co-op didn't allow people to bring their own containers either (they said it was a Mass state health code or something like that), but they had glass jars you could use for bulk for which you paid $1 deposit for each.  Ok, that would have been great, but usually their jars were DIRTY!  I mean it looked like they hadn't even been washed and were greasy looking with stuff stuck inside.  How is that more hygienic than me bringing my own CLEAN jars??  Often times, my husband would bring the jars back clean and reuse those for our purchases and put more of their dirty jars in our cart to get our deposit back.  No one ever noticed and we felt better about the cleanliness. 

Now we live in Portland, OR and bring glass jars for everything at WF - meat, fish, bulk, all of it.  I was told technically they're not supposed to do it for meat and fish, but I never have a hard time with it at one particular store.  It's fantastic.  We've cut our trash so much!  Unfortunately, it's one of the few things we like about Portland and want to move back to Mass.  I'm not looking forward to switching back to all the waste, though. 

July 26, 2014
7:52 pm
Louise
Guest

A bit off topic, but now I wonder if my local Walmart will let me use my own (nice and new) cloth bags for produce. (We're too small for a Whole Foods nearby!) Guess I will have to try it out....


Answers Post
November 29, 2014
9:20 am
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Yikes. I've never had a problem using my own bags for produce or bulk items, but I was just going to start bringing my own containers for meat and cheese. I guess I'll try and see what happens.

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