If you use reusable bags when you shop at the grocery store, be sure to wash them after every couple of uses. Though they may be good for the environment the bags can pose a risk to your health.
According to a safety report by researchers at the University of Arizona and Loma Linda University, the bags can serve as a breeding ground for dangerous foodborne bacteria. Reusing the bags can lead to the cross contamination of foods.
“Our findings suggest a serious threat to public health, especially from coliform bacteria including E. coli, which were detected in half the bags sampled,” said Charles Gerba, Ph.D., a University of Arizona environmental microbiology professor and co-author of the study. “Furthermore, consumers are alarmingly unaware of these risks and the critical need to sanitize their bags after every use.”
Researchers found that the number of bacteria increased 10-fold when meat juices were added to the bags. A scary thought, if you’re like the 97% of people studied who say they don’t wash their bags.
Before you switch back to plastic, it’s very easy to protect yourself against these bacteria. A thorough cleaning in a washing machine or by hand (with or without bleach) kills about 99.9% of the bacteria that may be on the bags.
In addition to recommending that reusable bags get washed, the researchers offered several tips for consumers:
- Separate raw foods from other food products in the bags, paying particular attention to packaged meats which can leak during transport.
- Do not use reusable food bags for non-grocery purposes like carrying books or gym clothes.
- Do not store bags in car trunks because the higher temperature promotes bacteria growth.
To see the full report entitled “Assessment of the Potential for Cross Contamination of Food Products by Reusable Shopping Bags” click here.