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Whole Foods Insulated Reusable Bag - opinions?

It seems that my Friday nights have become multiple grocery store trip extravaganzas which means that the refrigerated/frozen products purchased at store # 1 are usually near room temperature by the time I get home from store #4 a few hours later given the time it takes to do other errands along the way. (FYI In case anyone is appaled at the fact that my trip involves 4 stores and several hours, I actually enjoy my lovely 3 hour adventure. I can get all of the specialty products that I want from different stores. It's a nice way to spend a Friday night as I find grocery shopping enjoyable and somewhat relaxing). Obviously, this is not ideal so when at Whole Foods last week I noticed a large insulated thermal reusable bag which I figured would be perfect. It's large and has comfortable straps and holds a lot of food. They assured me that it woudl keep food cool for up to 4 hours. However, when I got home last week 3 hours maximum from my shopping trip, all of the food was barely even cold. Anyone have any experience with these bags? Are there others you'd recommend? I read somewhere on Chow that Whole Foods will accept defective and broken bags, so should I return it if it's not actually keeping the food cold for the estimated time?

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  1. I am not familiar with the Whole Foods bag, but I use bags that are probably similar. You need to add some re-freezable ice packs into the bag, or at least add some solidly frozen items that you just purchased, or buy a bag of ice at the first store.

    Not sure where you are located, but if the outside temperature is warm, then the temp inside your car is probably even hotter. The bag by itself does not provide any cooling, it just insulates the contents from the outside temp. This will be less of a problem in the cold weather months.

    1 Reply
    1. re: pamf

      OK great. Now that I think about it, most of the items were cool rather than frozen (refrigerated meat and cheeses) which I imagine don't contribute much to the "coolness" of the bag. The bag is kept in the car which is air conditioned in transit between stores but then of course warms up as I am shopping.

    2. I keep an ice chest in my vehicle for extended and hot weather shopping. In hot weather, I will also use "blue ice" and/or ice in "recycled" water bottles.

      I don't know which version of the WF bag you have. Years ago, WF was using a foil lined bag. Based on my experience foil bags do not work as well as insulated bags, and even insulated bags require ice. My insulated bags were designed for transporting whole fish. The bag has ~1" of insulation on each side and is covered with vinyl.

      If you want to keep you food cold, use ice.

      1. Wouldn't it make sense to just leave a decent-sized cooler in the back of your car, and put in a few refreezable ice packs to keep everything cold? If you have a fridge at work, put the ice packs in there to stay frozen, and when you leave for the weekend, take them with you.

        1 Reply
        1. re: LindaWhit

          That is what I do when my grocery trips are long.

        2. The insulated bags are much less insulated than and hold much less than a hard shell cooler. I find that the cheap styrofoam coolers sold at many supermarkets for a few bucks are much better and very suitable for leaving in the car. One ice pack is usually enough for 4+ hours.

          If you are nice to your doctor or your kid's pediatrician, you can score free ice packs that shippers use to protect vaccine shipments. In fact, they also send the vaccines in styrofoam boxes that are even better insulated than the supermarket ones.

          1 Reply
          1. re: therealdoctorlew

            Another place you may be able to get really awesome coolers is if you know a local wildlife rehabilitator.

            My thick walled, awesome styrofoam coolers came from when I was caring for birds of prey. The rodent companies ship the frozen rats and mice in the BEST coolers.

            Yes, I did clean and bleach them thoroughly.

          2. We just keep a large ice chest in the back of the car for these types of shopping trips.

            1. The green w/plastic lining one that I have sucks, but I still use it. But I have noticed that my WF will give you ice if you need it. So maybe see if the one you frequent does the same. If you have space in your car for a cooler it might be worthwhile to keep one in the truck like others have suggested.

              2 Replies
              1. re: viperlush

                Yes, I think that is the same bag. The options were green or blue/green striped from what I remember. OK, will do although I might just convert it to a general reusable bag as it's pretty convenient since it is comfortable and holds a lot and put a cooler in the car.

                1. re: fldhkybnva

                  i have the same bag - as others have said, it helps to throw in a few ice packs. it's been a scorching summer here in the San Fernando Valley, and nothing short of an actual freezer would keep things from spoiling in the car while i'm running all over the place. i've tried to time it so i'm buying perishables at my last stop before heading home, but it doesn't always work out that way...so if i have items that need stay cool, i keep them in that insulated bag and carry the bag inside with me on my other errands - at least this way it's in air-conditioned stores most of the time as opposed to a 120-degree car.

              2. Like many other reply-ers (replicants? lol) I keep a (rather large) cooler in the car. I throw frozen bottles of water in when I'm heading out to shop.

                The thermal tote bag is good for keeping stuff cool en route to work or a party (for 45 min-an hour). I have used one overnight in a fridge-full emergency, with frozen bottles of water to keep produce fridge-cold, but it's a poor substitute for a cooler.

                1. I went to Palm Springs last month with my trusty Igloo cooler. It was over 100 outside. Bought some ice cream from the local supermarket and packed it in the cooler with ice. After a 20 minute drive to the house the outside of the cooler hot enough to hurt your hand. Inside the cooler the ice cream was soft and a small amount of ice melted. Without the cooler filled with ice I'm sure the ice cream would have all melted.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: surfer1966

                    Nice, sounds like the solution. Has anyone ever used frozen sponges as ice packs? I think I ran across this idea recently on thekitchn.com and wondered if it actually worked.

                    1. re: fldhkybnva

                      fld, i know this is not answering your question, but this just doesn't sound like it would work. i think the sponges would defrost quickly, but it's prob going to be a materials scientist who can factually answer your question.

                      btw, i just wanted to share another alternative cooler bag.We use 2 rectangular cooler bags w/ handles and shoulder strap- that are often sold as Golf items (We happened to get ours at HomeGoods.( about 16" w x 10" deep x 12" H) They are lined w/ that foil-looking plastic and have 3 dividers which can be used or opened up so there's just one rectangular space. When we take the bags to the market, we put in each 2 9" x 2 1/2 "?square freezer packs. We put the frozen or perishable refrigerated items directly into the bag,open the bag and go through checkout,return the items to the bag, and then place one freezer pack directly on TOP of the stacked food ,and next to it/touching on one side. If we buy a small amount of food that doesn't fill the bag, we put folded up thick newspapers on top of the ice packs on top of the food!

                      If it's wicked hot out and/or we're buying a large quantity of fresh fish or chicken or liquid dairy, we use a hard cooler, again with the ice packs on TOP of the food (best cooling method, i have read).

                      p.s. you can return ANYthing you want- to WF, for a full refund. WF shares that policy with TrJ and , because of it, i have tried many more new products than I would have otherwise. i have expanded my purchases and also returned items i didn't like.

                      1. re: opinionatedchef

                        I have 2 coolers I bought from an online store. One is a massive shopping style tote - foil lined. Holds a ton of food. That one I bring to TJ's.

                        I also have one with wheels. That one is for Costso or any other market. It was recommended by America's Test Kitchen.

                        Anyway, on the site that I bought it from - it had tips to keep your good cold. One was to freeze small bottles of water which is like small ice blocks. That's what I do (I also use ice packs) and my stuff stays frozen for ages.

                  2. Well, I might have to transition to the cooler idea. The trial run last week with an entire bag of ice did nothing and the food was still barely cool when I got home.