It's a great trend, many people are choosing to buy reusable grocery bags rather than continuing to litter our landfills with thousands and thousands of paper and plastic shopping bags. It has also probably saved the stores involved thousands of dollars, but some recent research studies have found a big issue with the reusable bag trend.
Basically a lot of people are remembering to bring the bags to the store, but too many are forgetting to wash those bags. After awhile that unwashed shopping bag becomes more like a used garbage bag that we keep putting our groceries in. Sound appetizing?
Almost two years ago a University of Arizona study found that reusable shopping bags carry all sorts of extremely hazardous bacteria and germs including Salmonella and e-coli. The bags were even traced back to cases of death, with the most significant risk being to the elderly and very young.
Charles Gerba, professor of soil, water and environmental science and co-author of the study at the University of Arizona comments on the results:
"Our findings suggest a serious threat to public health, especially from coliform bacteria including E. coli, which were detected in half of the bags sampled,"
"Furthermore, consumers are alarmingly unaware of these risks and the critical need to sanitize their bags on a weekly basis."
The study came out just before California wanted to pass a law banning disposable plastic bags at the grocery stores. I guess you can imagine what happened to that piece of legislation. The problem, as the study found, is more about a lack of awareness. People don't realize that bacteria is breeding and growing in there. It doesn't even occur to most people that they need to be sanitizing and washing those bags.
Here's a link to the study fittingly called, "Assessment of the Potential for Cross Contamination of Food Products by Reusable Shopping Bags". The University report also features some interesting recommendations about how lawmakers and consumers can protect the population from the bacteria that forms in reusable bags.
Here's what they came up with:
* States should consider requiring printed instructions on reusable bags indicating they need to cleaned or bleached between uses.
* State and local governments should invest in a public education campaign to alert the public about risk and prevention.
* When using reusable bags, consumers should be careful to separate raw foods from other food products.
* Consumers should not use reusable food bags for other purposes such as carrying books or gym clothes.
* Consumers should not store meat or produce in the trunks of their cars because the higher temperature promotes growth of bacteria, which can contaminate reusable bags.
It's not exactly a feel-good story, but I see people at the stores using some pretty grungy looking bags, so I thought it would be wise to raise some awareness about the issue. I never thought about the health concerns related to the bags, but certainly putting my groceries into a garbage bag to take home doesn't sound attractive either.