No Reusable Bags

As coronavirus continues to spread worldwide, People's Food Co-op is not allowing reusable bags Tuesday, March 24, 2020, in Rochester. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)

Grocery stores are one of the few Rochester places of business that have remained open during the COVID-19 outbreak.

They’ve certainly been affected by the disease, though, with them taking numerous steps to keep their customers and employees safe and avoid its spread. 

“We’ve been in the process of retooling every practice we have since this pandemic began,” People’s Food Co-op CEO Lizzy Haywood said. “One of our practices has been to include a full sanitation of every hard surface of our story, every three hours.”

Another is calling a halt to the use of reusable bags. Countless customers have been in the habit at People’s Food Co-op, and most Rochester grocery stores, of loading their groceries into their own cloth bags at the checkout aisle, storing those bags at home until the next trip to the store, then loading it up again.

At such places as Hy-Vee and People’s Food Co-op, that’s no longer allowed, at least until further notice.

“Because of the coronavirus, we’re not allowing that anymore,” said a Hy-Vee employee, who didn’t give her name. “It’s for the same reason that we are not taking back any returns (of groceries) from homes right now. It was a corporate decision and was made at the end of last week.”

At Trader Joe’s, reusable bags are allowed, though customers are asked to load them themselves, a precaution against spreading the disease to employees.

Costco has not changed its policy of allowing reusable bags. A Costco employee noted that plenty of its customers are still showing up with their own cloth bags, then loading their groceries into them.

Customers are varied about whether stores have gone too far with reusable bags restrictions or not far enough.

“I think it’s a good idea to not allow cloth bags at all,” Rochester resident Dave Stahl said before heading into Trader Joe’s. “There are contagions that can still be on those bags. You don’t want people setting them on hard surfaces.”

Andei Douglas was spotted leaving People’s Food Co-op, her groceries stuffed into a pair of paper bags. She’s normally one to opt for reusable bags, but didn’t have them on this trip.

But she’d read the sign at the store, and now knows she can’t use them until further notice.

That disappointed her.

“I don’t see a lot of logic in this,” Douglas said. “I think it’s overzealous. They still have to scan your (groceries). I’m not sure what this really does.”

CEO Haywood defended the move, saying it was one more way for her store to look after its customers and employees, to avoid the exposure that can come from those cloth bags.

But she certainly understood why some customers won’t like it.

“It is painful to eliminate reusable anything and go to single-use items,” Haywood said. “But our job right now is to reduce the time that this pandemic lasts. That is our social responsibility. So whatever it takes to do that, that’s what we’ll do.”

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