Starting next week, shoppers at Metro stores in Quebec can go zero waste more easily than ever.
Canadian supermarket chain Metro has announced that it's embracing the use of reusable containers. Starting on April 22, customers in all Quebec stores will be allowed to bring containers from home to fill with meat, seafood, deli products, and prepared foods.
A few rules apply. Containers must be clean and staff can refuse to fill if they're not clean enough. Plastic containers and ziplock bags are allowed, as long as they do not have a 'company name' (presumably another grocery brand?) on them. The staff responsible for filling containers must wash their hands frequently and ensure that the containers do not touch food preparation surfaces.Metro says its goal is to reduce single-use packaging, something that customers are increasingly concerned about. While implementing a system like the much-hyped Loop system (where stores provide reusable containers that customers take home, then return for cleaning) is something supermarkets may look to do in the future, this is an immediate solution to the problem.
Sylvain Charlebois, a food safety and policy researcher from Dalhousie University in Halifax, points out that Metro is the first grocer to make such a move. The reason for the industry's slow uptake of reusables is fear of contamination and transmission of pathogens such as listeria or E. coli. He told the Globe and Mail,
"The call that Metro is making is that it's more important to comply with what consumers are expecting of grocers and take on some risk from a food safety perspective, rather than just do nothing."
Personally, I am in favor of reusables, but I am aware of the risks. It puts more responsibility for safe food handling onto customers, which has potential for more cross-contamination; however, global plastic contamination is terrifying and we're only just beginning to understand the health implications of that, so going the reusable route seems a necessary risk to take. As long as store procedures remain the same, customers who wash their containers thoroughly shouldn't have anything to worry about.
As of right now the program is limited to Quebec, but Charlebois thinks "it’s only a matter of time before other national grocery chains follow suit, taking into account each province’s food safety legislation." Happy news, indeed.