Do Your Reusable Bags Pose a Health Risk?

A 2010 study carried out by the University of Arizona and Loma Linda University found that almost all reusable bags collected randomly from consumers contained a significant number of bacteria. Half the bags contained coliform bacteria while many of them had several opportunistic pathogens. While such information may tempt you to go back to plastic disposable bags, this is not such a viable option, especially with the increasing plastic bag bans.

Do you wash your reusable bag?
Some researchers concluded that reusable bags potentially played a significant role in cross contamination of foods especially if they were not washed properly and on a regular basis. One important finding from this study was that only 3 percent of the bag owners reported ever cleaning their reusable bags. The study also revealed that a simple effort to wash the bag by hand or machine reduced bacteria by more than 99.9 percent. Simply put, while it is commendable for you to opt for eco-friendly bags in an effort to preserve the environment, simple hygiene should also be observed in order to make the most of reusable shopping bags.

Is your bag multi-purpose?
People with reusable bags will often use them to carry other items in addition to groceries, including other shopping, biking supplies, snacks, books and even clothes. However, this increases the bag’s exposure to bacteria, so it becomes even more important to ensure that the bag is cleaned regularly. During transportation, usually in a car, the bag can be further exposed to bacteria, which could easily multiply significantly because of the temperature in the vehicle. Ideally, you should avoid using the grocery bag for other purposes and instead have a different bag for each purpose to avoid cross contamination.

Minimize bacteria
There are other steps that you can take to avoid the health problems associated with bacteria found in reusable bags. One of them is to wrap any uncooked meat, fish or poultry in separate plastic bags before you pack them in the bag. This is effective in avoiding the contamination that may result from the leaking juices. You should also consider having separate bags for meats and other foods, ensuring that each bag is washed regularly, depending on how often it is used. In addition, it is advisable to wash the bag whenever it gets wet and dry it completely before the next use.

Since most reusable shopping bags are made of fabric, it is very important to store them in an airy environment. This allows them to release any moisture they may be holding, which greatly discourages the build-up of bacteria in the bags. A closet or a small confined space is not the best place to store your reusable bag. In addition, leaving your unwashed bags in the car is also ill-advised, since the heat acts as an incubator for bacteria multiplication.

Washing your reusable bags
Bags made from woven canvas can easily be machine-washed using hot water and detergent. If the bag is made from composite man-made fiber such as nonwoven polyproplylene, wash it by hand or use the gentle cycle on your washing machine. Ensure that you turn the bag inside out when washing. Ultimately, once you make a habit of cleaning your reusable bags, you will soon realize that it is a small price to pay for the contribution you are making to the environment.

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