Reusable Tote Bags: Bacteria Ridden or Safe to Use?

Reusable tote bags are all the rage – besides specialty grocers and farmers’ markets offering them, mainstream grocery stores sell them, too. Whenever a new item increases in popularity, you are likely to hear negativity from the folks who aren’t cashing in, and reusable tote bags are no exception.

Reusable Shopping Bag

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Before reusable tote bags became a viable alternative, all you heard at the checkout was “paper or plastic?” Plastic usually won. Once people started choosing reusable tote bags instead, plastic bag manufacturers took a hit, but they didn’t take it sitting down. The American Chemistry Council, tied with plastic bag makers, according to NPR, funded a study that concluded that reusable tote bags are full of bacteria. Researchers tested reusable tote bags in Arizona and California and determined that more that half carried E. coli bacteria. It was probably not by coincidence that the study came out around the same time that California was considering a ban on plastic bags.

E. coli is a scary word, but according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “most strains of E. coli are harmless.” The American Chemistry Council study did not identify which strains of E. coli were found in the bags, so the report might be misleading. Even if the study identified the E. coli as the kind that makes you sick, washing your reusable tote bag eliminates almost all harmful bacteria.

There is no doubt that reusable tote bags are better for the environment than plastic bags. Plastic bags, according to National Geographic News, “clutter landfills, clog roadside drains and fill sea turtle bellies.” Once these plastic bags are discarded in the environment, they remain for hundreds of years before they even begin to break down. When they do decompose, toxic chemicals seep into the ground and into oceans, rivers and lakes.

The best solution is to use reusable tote bags, but to do so properly. The bags in the study that tested positively for E. coli had never been washed. If you regularly wash your tote bag with your laundry and never put unwrapped meat in the bag, especially when fruits and vegetables are in there as well, you should not have any problems.

Reusable tote bags, besides being “green,” can be stylish. Many are made with good, durable material and look attractive. They can also double as an overnight bag for a weekend getaway.

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