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How to Bag Your Own Groceries, According to an Award-Winning Grocery Bagger

Do the cashier a solid and save everyone some time.

You’ve probably experienced this situation at your local grocery store at some point.

You’re in line, and the cashier scans and moves your items across the conveyor belt. With each beep, the items pile up, waiting to be bagged while the cashier continues to work through your other purchases.

With other customers multiplying behind you, the polite (and right) thing to do is to start bagging the items yourself. It’s only when you’re leaving, as you carry out your unevenly distributed bags brimming with Oreos, that you wonder what the best way to pack your own grocery bag truly is.

Dwayne Campbell, veteran Hy-Vee employee and 2019 Best Bag winner at the National Grocers Association competition, knows a thing or two about grocery bagging. In February 2019, the Iowan bested 22 other baggers from across the nation, packing 35 items in less than a minute. He was judged on speed, proper bag-building technique, and weight distribution (his average was 11.5 pounds), in addition to attitude and style.

Campbell’s best bit of advice? Treat packing your groceries like building a house. “When you build a house, the first things that go up are the walls, so I put my boxed items (cereal, laundry detergent) in the bag first as a foundation,” Campbell says. “Then the heavy items — which are like all my furniture — in the center.” The walls will keep jars of tomato sauce, bags of apples or potatoes, and bottles of soda or juice upright, preventing them from tipping and spilling. Finally, Campbell recommends that all the light stuff (which he likens to “decorations and pictures”), like spices, sponges, and toothpaste, should “go upstairs.”

So who better than the top grocery bagger in the nation to school us on the best ways to bag it up?

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Start With Your Grocery Cart

Start With Your Grocery Cart
Hannah Wong / BuzzFeed

For optimal grocery packing, Campbell suggests rethinking the way you place items in your cart. You’ll want to divide your items by weight, so heavier things go on the conveyor belt first. Think canned goods, flour, sugar, larger fruit like pineapples or watermelon, dog food, or even 2-liter bottles of soda. For lighter items, we’re talking about snacks like crackers and cookies and two supermarket staples: eggs and bread. Anything vulnerable to being crushed should go on top.

When possible, try to add those heavy items to your cart right before checkout, so they can go on the conveyor belt first. “I would start with heavy items first, which is kind of difficult since when you do your grocery shopping, you throw all your heavy items on the bottom, right?” Campbell says. “If the heavy items are first and then the lighter items are on top of them, it makes it easier for us as clerks to then stack the groceries.”

Make Sure to Use Reusable Bags

As someone who’s been packing a lot of groceries in the past year, Campbell has seen an uptick in the use of reusable bags. Not only are reusable bags better for the environment, but they’re also better for grocery bagging in general when compared to plastic. “Number one, they won’t rip, and number two, you can put more items in them and be more efficient,” Campbell says. But don’t forget to clean them regularly, just like you would with any other piece of laundry that gets used that often.

Keep the Meat Neat, But Don’t Worry About Fruits and Veggies 

Keep the Meat Neat, But Don’t Worry About Fruits and Veggies

Meat, however, should be placed in its own bag (with other cold meats), to keep it from spoiling on the way home. Keeping it separated also prevents the possible contamination of other non-meat items. However, no separation is necessary with fruit and veggies, as they can be bagged together or with other items. In fact, sturdy boxed items can help to support and protect those fragile berries and leafy products.

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Distribute the Weight But Skip the Chips 

Distribute the Weight But Skip the Chips

Each grocery bag should weigh about the same, which you’ll have to judge based somewhat on feel and look. Campbell says that the most common grocery items are boxed and canned goods. Lighter, more fragile staple items — like the aforementioned eggs, bread, and cold meat — should go on top or in a separate bag. Other items, like crunchable snacks (crackers and cookies), tend to be the divas of the grocery world and sometimes demand their own attention.

“I’d say the hardest [item to bag] is chips because the bag is so aired, and so when you put them in a bag, it takes up so much space. Other items are smaller and you can maneuver them around easier, so I save chips for the very end. Obviously you don’t want to crush the chips, but if you get it in there first, it takes up a lot of room.”

Always Leave It to The Pros 

If there happens to be a person present to bag your groceries, however, Campbell encourages customers to let the bagger perform their job, especially at his Hy-Vee store in Des Moines. “It’s full service when you come to our grocery store. It’s not self-service,” he says. “If people want their groceries bagged a certain way, I’ll listen to them and do it the best I can, and most times, it’s pretty good.” Sometimes simply allowing someone else to do the bagging is the nicest thing you can do for your clerk, the people behind you in line, and your groceries.

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Every product covered here is independently selected by opinionated humans. But so you know, buying stuff through our links may earn us a small share of the sale or other compensation.

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