1. Choosing a lane.
Pick the one with the fewest people, even if their carts are filled. It will move faster than one with more people but fewer items. Why? California-based mathematician Dan Meyer says it takes about 3 seconds to scan each item, but over a minute per customer for greetings and payment -- especially if they're clueless with the credit card machine.
2. Loading the conveyer belt.
Place frozen and refrigerated items on the belt first so "they'll stay cold huddled together," says Kyle Perry, the 2010 National Grocers Association Best Bagger Champion. Then, group like items to speed up scanning, bagging and unpacking, and load fragile items last. Don't bother placing coupons on products, says Laura Everage of familyeats.net. Just hand them over at the end.
3. Handling items that need TLC.
Pack breakables, like glass bottles or jars, with small boxes or soft packages in between. "Raw meat, poultry and seafood should be packed separately from other groceries to prevent crosscontamination," says Perry. Place heavy produce like watermelon in its own bag to prevent it from damaging other items.
4. Bagging the groceries.
Paper bags are easier to pack, but cost almost four times as much as their plastic counterparts. That's why 80 percent of grocery stores now offer only plastic (plus the option to buy reusable bags), says supermarket consultant Joe Hynes. When packing flimsy bags, stabilize contents by stacking boxed items, such as cereal, along the outer edges to create "walls," says Perry. Fill in the center and top with crushables like eggs or chips. Tie off the handles to prevent items from falling out.
5. Packing up the cart.
If you've done a big shop, pack four or five bags without any fragile items into the cart first; then stack the bags with the remaining groceries, placing crushables on top. When loading the car, place cold items in your trunk last, so they’re unpacked first. The USDA recommends getting perishables home within two hours of purchase, but use common sense -- if it's a hot day, don't plan any stops on the way home.