Once the province of specialized health-food stores alone, bulk food containers are now a staple in even the most basic of supermarkets. No wonder. Bulk bins are kind to the environment, enjoy a reputation for housing healthier products and typically offer better value than their packaged-up counterparts.
But sharing the spotlight is a concern about the safety of buying food products that are exposed in this way, inviting contact with not only all kinds of shoppers’ paws but bugs, dust and the stale leftovers of old food.
Here’s a primer on getting the most out of your bulk food containers.
• Beans have an impressively long shelf life. In almost all their copious varieties, they can last a good two or three years, and so make an excellent bulk food choice.
• Unpopped popcorn kernels are great candidates for bulk-food buying. They’re much cheaper when they’re sold in this format than when they’re packaged up in jars. And they have virtually an endless best-before date.
• Because of its high fat content, olive oil is a lousy choice for bulk-bin sale. Their antioxidants break down by about 40 percent after six months, according to a 2005 study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Science.
• Condiments have a shelf life of between six months and a year, so are also cautious choices to buy from a bin.
• Spices are a tricky pick to include in your bulk-food options, however tempting their voluminous presence may be. The worry here isn’t so much that the cinnamon or turmeric will spoil and make you sick, but that they’ll lose their flavour all together.
• White rice has a nice long shelf life, and so is an excellent choice to include in a bulk-bin operation. Because it contains more oil, brown rice only lasts about six months at the outside.
• Unshelled nuts are also a dicey choice for inclusion in a bulk-bin campaign because of their high oil content. Nuts in the shell last longer, so are pretty safe to buy in bulk.
• Gravity-fed bulk food dispensers are a good bet for retailers looking to placate customers about bacterial concerns. Also, they force the stock to be rotated by dispensing the older stuff first.