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Bulk Barn halts the use of reusable containers over COVID-19 concerns

Shutterstock/Kristi Blokhin

With the COVID-19 story unfolding seemingly by the hour, it’s almost impossible to say what changes could be thrust upon the grocery sector next.

One of the issues in broader food service has been the question of reusable containers and customer self service of unpackaged foods.

Last week, Starbucks, Second Cup and finally Tim Hortons all announced they would stop accepting reusable cups indefinitely. (A decision that had a significant impact on Tim Hortons famous Roll up the Rim promotion, which was restructured this year to encourage reusable cup use.)

READ: How Canadian grocery is dealing with COVID-19

And the Bulk Barn announced it too would no longer allow customers to bring their own containers to their stores. In a statement the company said it had taken steps to “bolster cleaning and sanitation” throughout its stores.

“Our reusable container program already has built into it very high standards, including the need for containers to be properly cleaned prior to being brought into the store,” it said. “However, out of an abundance of caution due to COVID-19 uncertainties, we have determined that it is appropriate at this point to be extra vigilant and to pause this program for the current time.

“If customers bring a reusable container to any of our stores, we will still honour all current promotions; however, the containers will not be accepted for use in the store. We apologize to our valued customers for any inconvenience that this may cause.”

Longo's, Save-On-Foods, Sobeys/Empire, Metro and Loblaw all declined to comment to Canadian Grocer for this story.

In the L.A. Times last week, business columnist David Lazarus contemplated implications for grocery businesses including produce and salad bars and prepared foods.

Marion Nestle, a professor emeritus of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University told Lazarus, there is no evidence coronavirus can be transmitted by food, though she added that it’s “theoretically possible.”

But Benjamin Chapman, an associate professor and food safety specialist at North Carolina State University, told Lazarus he’s concerned about the prepared foods at supermarkets with serving spoons used by customers. “Everybody who grabs the tongs has the ability to transfer a pathogen,” Chapman said.


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