• Tue, Nov 8 2011

Your Reusable Grocery Bags Are Probably Contaminated By Disease-Causing Bacteria

While you’re proudly toting your canvas “I’m Not A Plastic Bag” (or better–Karl Who?) shopper up and down the aisles, you may want to pick up some laundry detergent, too–because that bag might be harboring more than just organic veggies. You may also be carrying around a major food safety concern.

Grocery stores (and particularly carts) have already been shown to have high numbers of potentially sickening bacteria, such as E. coli, so it’s no surprise that your grocery bags may have picked up some of those same illness-causing agents. But it’s no small number of totes that are also harboring bacteria–according to one study, E. Coli was found in 12% of bags, and nearly every bag tested had some kind of contaminant present in high numbers.

Often left in cool, dark spaces (like the drawer that you keep them in between shopping trips) after exposure to bacteria, canvas and other cloth fibers are easy breeding grounds for germs that could potentially make you sick. And while meats and unwashed produce (hello, listeria) are most often the harbingers of the contaminants, the real problem may stem from user error.

According to one study, just 3% of people surveyed said that they regularly washed their reusable shopping bags. And washing your bags is really all it takes–hot, soapy water has been shown to remove nearly 100% of disease-causing bacteria from the fibers of these eco-friendly totes. Unfortunately, a lot of reusable bags don’t come with instructions on washing, or advisories that remind people of this very basic requirement.

Earlier this year, Canada’s health ministry released an instructional statement, which recommended that consumers try to reduce cross-contamination, and that they regularly wash or sanitize their bags. And at least one study has advised that the CDC or other US health advocacy group do the same, to encourage users to adopt regular cleaning practices. However, no such advisory has been put in place, and many consumers remain unaware of the potential danger they’re carrying with them.

The simplest way to keep your eco-friendly shoppers friendly to your health is to keep them clean. Toss them in with your regular load of laundry, or wash them separately with bleach. And of course, always wash your fresh produce before consumption–even if it only spent a little bit of time in a potentially contaminated bag, you don’t know where it’s been before that, either.

Image courtesy of Purse Blog.

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  • michelle

    Oh my god that is frightening! I’ve been using the same grocery bags for atleast a year now and never gave a thought to cleaning them….

    • Hanna Brooks Olsen

      I know, right? I have never washed a grocery bag which, apparently, makes me gross and disease-y. Will be washing them with every laundry load now.