The Scoop on Bulk Bins

Is there a statute of limitations on High School pranks? In 1982, Beverly Hills High classmate Danny H. placed his dead snake, a’ la rigor mortis, into the cafeteria’s community condiments. Ketchup anyone?

Danny’s snake came to mind this week when I missed my favorite snack, Whole Foods Organic dried mango.

organic mango

“We’re out of stock on that, but you can find dried mango in the bulk items,” the clerk told me.

He might as well have said community ketchup. I eyed the bulk bins holding everything from grains to candy to mango slices. “Don’t people reach in there without the scoop?”

“You wouldn’t believe what people do,” he shook his head sadly.

I doubt I’d ever find a Diamondback in the granola bulk bin, but I’ve seen people helping themselves to plenty of “free samples” and that makes me wonder. Did they just sneeze? What bacteria lurks on their fingertips? How often do they clean those bins anyway?

Whole Foods Bulk Bins

The good news is, according to the FDA safety recall website, last year’s Whole Foods Market bulk bin items recall had nothing to do with contamination in the store.

Still, like the salad bar, soup bar and olive bar, the use of bulk bins relies on the honor system. Thou shalt not steal from Whole Foods. Or more importantly, thou shall not gross out BH Mom.


Bulk bins can help us avoid waste and achieve my dream of going plastic free. In some markets, customers even bring their own cloth bags or glass containers to fill them with bulk bin contents.

So what’s stopping me?

A few years ago I ate from the salad bar of another market and became sick. Can’t-be-more-than-three-feet-from-the-bathroom sick. Are my germaphobic tendencies getting the better of me?


Arcenio, who manages Whole Foods Beverly Hills Bulk Food reassured me, “I watch over the bins and if I see someone reach in, I stop them.”

“Don’t they get defensive?”

“I don’t care,” he said. “If customers see people putting their hands in the food, they won’t want to buy it.”

Chris, the Customer Relations Team Leader told me he caught a woman sampling an olive at the olive bar. “When I asked her to stop she told me it’s only one olive and started to give me a hard time. So I kicked her out.”

My new superheroes Arcenio and Chris believe shoppers should treat food at the Olive Bar and bulk bins like their own refrigerator. They wouldn’t want someone randomly sticking their hands in it.

Blame it on that bout of sickness I had apres salad bar. In my opinion, markets need to take one more step. Hand Sanitizer stations. Most markets have Sanitizing wipes for carts, but what about for your hands? If customers were more diligent about clean hands, I’d be more confident about buying dried mango out of the bulk bins.








Author Description

Cynthia Baseman

Cynthia Baseman is the author of 'Love, Mom: A Mother's Journey from Loss to Hope.' She writes about motherhood, the environment and education.

There are 11 comments. Add yours

  1. 30th April 2013 | Fabiana says: Reply
    I totally agree. But don't you ever wonder what goes on in the kitchen of your favorite restaurant? Probably a bit of coughing sneezing.
    • 30th April 2013 | Cynthia Baseman says: Reply
      I do wonder. A lot actually. And then I take a sip of wine and try to forget it so I can manage to enjoy a meal out.
  2. 29th April 2013 | Elaine says: Reply
    Oh great, thanks for completely grossing me out. I occasionally by my favorite Castelvetrano olives from the olive bar at Whole Foods because that's the only way the sell them - same at Bristol Farms. Maybe they should have a glove & mask wearing bin & bar server to help dole out the goods to customers. Until then, I may have to go olive free!
  3. 29th April 2013 | fromdorothea says: Reply
    Here in Israel bread is still sold unwrapped (and very fresh). The trick is to get to the supermarket or store just as the cartons containing the loaves are being delivered and take your pick before anyone else has fingered them. But too much hygiene is not so healthy either, we're told, and may account for rising asthma rates among children. You just can't win.
  4. 29th April 2013 | Hayley Kaplan says: Reply
    I stay away from those bulk bins as I lovingly eye the gorgeous olives. But I won't buy those delicious olives or any other products from the bulk bins.
  5. 29th April 2013 | Carpool Goddess says: Reply
    Bins are scary I tell ya. I don't go near them.
  6. 29th April 2013 | Christina Simon says: Reply
    Ok, this is a very interesting post. I'll be honest. I don't buy from the bulk bins because of what I've seen-people having lunch from them. Its just gross.
  7. 29th April 2013 | Marjorie Bard says: Reply
    I haven't used bulk bins since I realized how many people put their hands in and take samples. I also won't use salad bars in grocery stores or places like Soup Plantation...if that still exists in L.A. I always wonder, when seeing folk use these public germ-laden food sources if they have half a working brain. I won't even use a salad bar in a fancy restaurant. It just makes common sense. Too many people sneeze or cough near the bars, and germs travel. I have no desire at all to become ill.... Just wondering: is the Whole Foods store where the old Mrs. Gooch's was? I must have done at least half of my shopping there for years, alternating with Santa Glen Market. It just mattered in what part of town I was in at the time.
    • 29th April 2013 | Cynthia Baseman says: Reply
      Yep, it is the old Mrs. Gooch's and the staff and quality of the food is amazing.
  8. 28th April 2013 | OpinionsToGo says: Reply
    I hear ya sistah!! I can't do the whole bin thing. Just not worth the chance of getting sick. It's like playing Russian Roulette, I tell you, Russian Roulette.
    • 29th April 2013 | Cynthia Baseman says: Reply
      And once you've been sick, you'll do pretty much anything to avoid it again. Am I right?

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