Grocery bags in grocery store

Food contact materials refer to materials and items that come into direct or indirect contact with food. These include food containers and packaging materials such as cardboard, paper, plastic or metal.

Food contact materials must not transfer ingredients into the food in quantities that could endanger human health or cause inappropriate changes in the composition or organoleptic characteristics of the food.

More information on contact materials can be found here.

Are the plastic bags and other shopping bags sold in stores food contact materials?

As a rule, the shopping bags that are available for purchase at cash registers in shops that sell unpacked food are food contact materials. However, if the bags are clearly marked as unsuitable for unpackaged foods, the store may also sell shopping bags by the cash register that do not meet the requirements for food contact materials. Such bags must not, however, have a strong odour.

Why is the label ‘This bag is not suitable for unpackaged food’ added to the grocery bags?

The labels aim to guide the consumer to use the grocery bags correctly and safely.

In Finland, it has been agreed that grocery shopping bags that do not meet the requirements for food contact materials will be added to inform the consumer with the text ‘This grocery bag is not suitable for unpackaged food’ and in Swedish ‘Denna påse lämpar sig inte för oförpackade livsmedel’. The marking can be seen in both plastic and paper bags, which are not made of contact material grade raw materials.

A transition period has been agreed with food stores, during which the label can be placed on all paper and plastic bags that do not meet the requirements of food contact materials legislation. Depending on the type of bag, the transition period is 12-15 months. The transition period began at the beginning of October 2023. During the transition period, the store can sell both new and old marked shopping bags.

Why don't all grocery bags have a similar label?

The purpose of use of the bag may vary. There are usually a wide variety of bags available in grocery store cashiers. Some of them are suitable for contact with food and some are not. Trade bags for which the store has ensured that they meet the requirements for food contact materials do not need to have this marking. Often, a cup-fork symbol or other label indicating food grade indicates their suitability for food contact.


Picture 1. cup-fork symbol

Are other EU countries doing the same?

Finland's operating method is in accordance with the EU Commission's policy. As a rule, other EU countries follow the same practice in regard to plastic bags that do not meet the contact material criteria.

Why do grocery stores have shopping bags that are not suitable for contact with non-prepacked foods?

 The so-called grocery shopping bags are often made of recycled material and are of great importance to the circular economy. Therefore, they are also wanted to be available in food stores. However, trade bags made of recycled material are not always food grade quality and may contain impurities. For this reason, the packaging label has been designed to instruct the consumer to use the bag only for packaged food, as the risks of potential contamination are very low.

Why cannot non-food grade quality shopping bags sold at the cash register be used for unpackaged food?

The shopping bags, that are not food grade quality and sold at cash registers in shops are intended for the short-term transport of packaged food from the shop to home and their safety for the transport of unpacked food has not been ensured.

Can foods be stored in shopping bags in the long term, e.g. at home?

Unpackaged foods should not be put in store bags as such but they should be packaged before. Even packaged food should not be stored in shopping bags longer than it takes to transport them from the shop to home. At home, packaged food should be removed from the shopping bag, as the bags have not been designed for the long-term storage of food and their safety has not been assessed for such use.

Can the use of recycled plastic bags and other non-contact material grade shopping bags cause me health problems?

When shopping bags are used for the purpose for which they are made, i.e. transporting packaged food from the shop to home, the bags do not cause health issues to consumers.

I have often used recycled plastic bags from the store to transport purchases home and store food. Has my health been endangered?

Hasn't been endangered. Although trade bags made from recycled material may contain impurities, when used according to their intended use, there is generally no risk of potential impurities being transferred to food.

I bought a recycled plastic bag that was being sold at the grocery store. What is the purpose for which it can be used?

You can use the bag for the short-term transport of packaged food. Do not use the bag to transport unpacked food. After use, you can use the bag as a waste bag or for storing non-food items.

How, then, are the textile bags sold at the cashier? Why don't they have similar markings?

There are currently no general EU-level criteria for examining whether or not fabrics are suitable for contact with non-prepacked foods. As a result, it is not possible to categorize what types of cloth bags would be suitable for transporting non-prepacked food and what types would not. As a rule, unpackaged food is not recommended to be transported in a cloth bag. It is a good idea for the consumer to wash the tote bags used for transporting food on a regular basis.

What about plastic bags and paper bags available in non-food stores? Why do they not have similar markings, even though they may at some point carry unpacked food?

Plastic and paper bags that are not labelled and not suitable for contact with non-prepacked foods are available on the market as well as for sale. The labelling obligation only applies to food stores.  This is despite the fact that at some point these bags may end up on a grocery trip. Interpretations concerning the marking of plastic and paper bags have sought to take into account the most likely risks and the most likely use of different types of bags.

How do I know if a bag I once purchased is suitable for transporting food and can I continue to use it when I don't know the material?

If there is no information about the material and the original purpose of the bag, it is not worth using it to store or transport unpackaged food.

Page last updated 1/9/2024