I went grocery shopping today. I went to Publix, where I do all of my shopping. The store was well stocked. The produce was fresh. The employees were helpful and friendly. As I walked the aisles, I thought to myself, “this is fun.” Upon checking out, I was pleased with my savings (about 20%, despite close to half of my purchase being fresh meats and produce) and preparing to walk to my car, when the bagger stopped me and said, “Thank you for always arranging your food so nicely when you put it on the conveyor belt. It makes bagging your food so much easier.” I smiled in response and replied that it was my pleasure to help.

As I walked to my car, I started to think about the thanks that the bagger had offered. She thought I had been helping her, but I really had been helping myself. There are countless articles that have been published in the past few years on saving money at the grocery store. Indeed, if you are reading this article, you probably take pride in your coupon clipping, menu planning and knowledge of the best bargains available. Despite that, have you ever considered whether you are approaching food shopping efficiently and pragmatically when you are actually in the grocery store?

Most grocery stores are arranged with produce on the left or right side of the store, with frozen foods on the other side. Chilled products are at the back of the store and meats are usually near the produce. Everything is designed to force you to walk around the store to buy most of your staples because that forces you to look at more displays and to impulse shop more. Store managers know that the more time you spend in the store, the more money you usually will spend in the store.

I have no problem with stores trying to get me to spend and I do not mind walking around the store. That said, a few years ago, I realized that if I start shopping at the right side of my store, in the produce section, all of my produce was bruised and damaged by the groceries that I put on top of them later. If I started in the frozen food section, at the left side of the store, my frozen products were thawed by the time I got out of the store.

To remedy this, I began starting my route in the center grocery aisles, purchasing all of the non-perishable items first. I know the store well enough that I can skip the aisles that offer nothing that I need to buy. I then move on to my frozen foods and chilled foods so that they stay together in one part of my shopping cart, and I finish with my produce on top. As simple as my logistical approach to shopping is, I find that I can enjoy a host of benefits by employing it, including:

No Need to Rush

I realize that a lot of savings columns suggest that shoppers should minimize their time in the grocery store. I do not subscribe to that philosophy. I like to read ingredients and nutritional information and I definitely like to explore the unit costs of the items that I buy. I also want to ensure that I do not miss any sales or special pricing on items that I like. By shopping for non-perishable items first, I have no built in pressure to rush through the store to get my produce and refrigerated items home before they spoil or wilt. As a secondary bonus, I also ensure that all of my heavy items are placed at the bottom of my shopping cart, where they cannot bruise produce or crush eggs.

Cold Items Stay Together

By shopping for all of my frozen and chilled items in sequence (frozen, then dairy, then seafood, then meats), I ensure that all of my cold products insulate each other. Living in Florida, a package of frozen fish, for example, will quickly melt if I do not get it to a freezer quickly. If I keep all of my frozen and chilled products together in the cart, they last much longer in the cart and that allows me the time I need to drive home and get them to my freezer before they thaw or spoil.

Produce Does Not Wilt or Bruise

In days of old, half of my produce was damaged by the time I got home because I was putting my produce at the bottom of the shopping cart. By shopping for my produce last, I was able to ensure that I did not damage my produce before it even got to the checkout counter.

Organized Checkout

With my model for shopping, I am able to organize my purchase before I put it on the conveyor belt at the checkout line. Because the baggers usually bag items in the order that they are placed on the belt, I can ensure that my produce gets bagged together, my frozen and chilled products get bagged together and my non-perishables get bagged together. It makes it much easier for the bagger (hence the gratitude expressed this afternoon after I shopped) and it helps me to get all of my frozen and chilled products into the house fast when I get home. It also ensures (most of the time) that bananas and tomatoes do not end up packed underneath a bunch of cans.

I realize that avoiding the perimeter of the store until the very end of my shopping routine is a very simple thing but it really has helped me to avoid wasting a lot of food. I always used to have to throw something away when I got home from the grocery store because it had melted or been crushed. Now, I find that all of my grocery purchases make it home in one piece in the form that nature – or their producer – had intended.

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