Ode to clear plastic produce bags and fresh vegetables

Remember clear plastic bags, their rolls hanging above the produce so you could grab a handful of green beans or a dozen limes? Maybe you’re lucky and live somewhere they’re still in use. I am not so lucky, and I miss those ubiquitous clear rectangles for a lot of reasons. Alas, they are being “phased” out. Here’s a clip from Berkeley, California’s bag law:

Requirements for businesses and vendors are designed to encourage customers to use reusable, compostable, or recycled-content bags.

Businesses and events should allow customers to bring reusable bags and containers, unless they are inappropriate or unsanitary.

Grocery stores

Large grocery stores, supermarkets, convenience food stores, or any other entity that sells food products and has a total floor are over 2,500 square feet must follow carryout bag requirements in addition to pre-checkout bag requirements. Pre-checkout bags are bags provided for customers to carry produce, bulk food, or other products to checkout.

  • Recycled-content paper pre-checkout bags: may provide for free
  • Plastic pre-checkout bags: may provide for 10 cent charge per bag
  • Customers who receive California Special Supplemental Food Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), or Calfresh benefits are exempt from the bag charge. 
  • Plastic bags for meat or seafood may be provided for free only upon request. Businesses must post clear signage for customers that plastic bags are not composted and are sent to landfill. Signage should also provide information about alternative options such as bringing their own bag, or acquiring recycled content paper or reusable pre-checkout bags.
  • Stores should make reasonable efforts to make reusable pre-checkout bags available for sale…
  • Plastic film carryout bags regardless of thickness are not allowed


Recycled-content paper bags must meet certain standards:

  • Contain no old growth fiber and a minimum of 40 percent postconsumer recycled material
  • 100 percent recyclable and compostable
  • Has the following information printed clearly on the outside of the bag: the words “Recyclable,” the name and location of the manufacturer, and the percentage of postconsumer recycled content

Reusable pre-checkout bags have specific requirements:

  • Washable by hand or machine, or is made from a material that can otherwise be cleaned or disinfected
  • Does not contain lead, cadmium, or other heavy metals in toxic amounts
  • Has the following information printed on the bag or a tag permanently attached to the bag: the name of the manufacturer, the location (country) where the bag was manufactured, a statement that the bag does not contain lead, cadmium or any other heavy metal in toxic amounts, and the percentage of postconsumer recycled material (if any)
  • Not made of plastic film, regardless of thickness

Reusable carryout bags must meet the standards for pre-checkout bags listed above, as well as additional requirements:

  • Minimum lifetime of 125 uses
  • Minimum volume of 15 liters

In the name of creating less landfill and using fewer petroleum products, we have destroyed any possibility of keeping produce fresh and organized in a home fridge.

Since I retired (after 50 years working in the culinary field), I no longer have big bins in a walk-in fridge and no longer purchase cases of produce.

Those opaque, green cornstarch-based “bio” bags, the new standard, are limp and very soft in texture. The bag sags completely around its contents, and the produce decomposes much faster in the airless environment.

Try an experiment: Put two bags, one clear plastic, the other a bio bag, in the crisper drawer with a head of lettuce in each. The clear one leaves air gaps and is never totally closed. The bio is the opposite. Inspect the produce after a few days and see which looks better.

In my test, several layers of outer leaves on the bio bag head were limp and inedible. Not so the plastic. The other thing I hate is I can no longer view the contents easily without opening the bags.

OK, I hear all the eco-weenies yelling…don’t get a bag at all! Or get paper! Hmmm…

If the store provided little paper bags (most don’t), I’d feel bad for all the trees, although I could at least bag my green beans…but I still wouldn’t be able to see my produce through the brown bag.

Also, brown bags decompose when wet and, at least around here, the chain groceries have put in a periodic misting system for all the produce to keep it looking good. If wet items are in brown bags, they disintegrate and heavy items make them tear. If your paper bags survive the trip to the check-out line and the trip home, they will sit opaquely in your fridge until you open every one to see what’s inside. They are not the best solution!

Besides all the bag issues, you now must contend with the evil of Bill Gates’ sneaky new anti-aging product for vegetables, Apeel, which retards external decay to make old vegetables look younger. Take a look at the picture of an avocado here—and yeah, you better wonder next time you go to the store whether you’re buying fresh or “fake-fresh”!

Personally, I find little appeal in the concept of Apeel. I prefer my produce with nutritional value, which might be long gone. You won’t be able to tell how old the vegetables and fruit are by looking. Apeel is apparently impossible to wash off, by the way. There seems to be some mystery ingredients involved, presumably safe to eat, but we don’t know.

Bottom line for me: If I can’t buy actual fresh produce, I might as well eat frozen as my parents did in the 1950s. Probably safer and healthier, as they froze the produce shortly after picking. There is some nutritional loss from freezing, but I’m betting much less than from sitting around looking good for three weeks.

Image: Fresh produce by KamranAydinov.

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