What You Need
Containers or bags for shopping and storing
1. Locate a bulk food seller near you. Bulk bins may be found at supermarkets, health food stores, and co-ops, and buying from them is often cheaper than buying packaged foods. Check that the bins are clean and well-maintained and look for signs of high turnover, which means the food will be fresher.
2. Bring a reusable container (if permitted). Bringing your own container cuts down on plastic bag waste and you might even store the food in the same container without having to transfer it when you get home. We like using clean glass jars, cotton bags, or nylon ripstop bags. If the store doesn't have a clearly stated policy, check with customer service or a cashier.
3. If using your own container, determine the tare weight before filling it. In order to deduct the weight of the empty container, called tare weight, some stores let you weigh it yourself, while others require you to take it to a cashier. If you reuse the same container often, you might write the weight directly on it so you don't have to weigh it every time.
4. Write down the code. For each item, take note of the code on the bin and write it down for the cashier. Depending on your container and the store's policy, you may write the code on the container, on a sticker or twist tie, or on a separate piece of paper. For your own benefit, you may want to label the item with the name as well as the code.
5. Practice good etiquette. Use the scoops provided and do your best to keep the area clean. If you accidentally spill something, notify an employee. And avoid the temptation to snack from the bins!
6. Properly store the food in your pantry. Most bulk foods should be stored in airtight containers, so transfer them if necessary. You might use empty food jars, store-bought food storage containers, Mason jars, or one large container for smaller bags. Label the contents of each container using a marker, sticker, piece of masking tape, etc.
• Buy only the quantity you need and have space to store. Over-buying may lead to stale and wasted food. This is especially the case with nuts, which can go rancid, and spices, which can lose their potency.
• Bulk bin shopping is a great way to try new foods, as you can purchase a small quantity of spices, grains, etc.
• When we get home from the store, we like to place dry goods like flour in the freezer for 48 hours to kill any pests. (We do this with all grocery store grains, not just those from the bulk bins.)
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(Images: Flickr member me and the sysop licensed under Creative Commons, Emily Ho, Emily Ho, Kootsac, Flickr member orangeacid licensed under Creative Commons, Flickr member Jo Jakeman licensed under Creative Commons, Flickr member brownpau licensed under Creative Commons, Emily Ho)