How Clean is Your Reusable Grocery Bag?

BYOB – Bring Your Own BAG! It’s a green Mantra of sorts for sustainable living and reducing plastic bags in the landfills. There was a time when most grocery stores had only plastic bags, with the conscientious customer demanding greener options they added the paper bags and now most stores offer a sturdy, recycled plastic bag! Strong, reusable and recycled! What more would one need!

So every week I head to my grocery store with my trusted set of 4 bags 2 canvas and 2 recycled plastic bags. Use no additional plastic bags or paper etc and feel good about my Green habit. Today I read this article on Discovery health about the cleanliness of the reusable grocery bag! I was surprised and shocked when I realized that my plastic bags belong to the 97% of bags which were not cleaned on a regular basis!

The article by Benjamin Radford is based on a study by researchers in the University of Arizona who looked at reusable grocery bags in California and Arizona. They picked the bags from patrons as they entered the stores. Public unawareness of cross contamination was found to be almost universal. It is estimated that there are about 76,000,000 cases of food borne illness in the United States every year! And most are from improper handling or cooking of food.

Their conclusions and recommendations are as follows:

  • Consumers almost never wash reusable bags (a whopping 97% do not!)
  • Requiring printed instructions on reusable bags that they be washed between uses or the need to separate raw foods from other food products. (Duh… Why did I not think about washing the plastic bags!?)
  • Hand or machine washing reduced the numbers of bacteria in reusable bags by >99.9%
  • A potential significant risk of bacterial cross contamination exists from using reusable bags to carry groceries
  • Bacteria were capable of growth when stored in the trunks of cars (I leave mine in there most of the time)
  • Large numbers of bacteria were found in every reusable bag, but none in new bags or plastic bags (So it is how we use it that transfers the bacteria into the bags)
  • Coliform bacteria including E. coli were found in half of the bags tested (Washing hands, food etc will definitely help)

I would add the following to it –

  1. Keeping separate bags for groceries and say the library or Gym clothes etc… (a dedicated grocery bag basically)
  2. Cloth or canvas is the better option as it can be washed in hot water and does not disintegrate with heat.
  3. For meat and related products, keep a dedicated bag so it does not cross contaminate.
  4. I am also suggesting sun exposure after washing, sunlight is a good deterrent to micro-organisms and also gets rid of moisture easily 🙂

Take a look at your grocery bag, I know I will never look at it the same way again. Remember to wash it regularly and keep your family safe.

Also wanted to mention the standard plastic bags that we see around can be recycled for details and to find a recycling place near you go to PlasticBagRecylcing

Couple of neat cotton grocery bags are below click on the picture to go to their websites.

Live Green!

Interested in reading the whole study click here

The Article is here

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