March 5, 2021

How Can You Keep Reusable Grocery Bags Clean and Safe?

As more and more grocery stores stop using, and even ban, plastic bags and paper bags, reusable grocery bags are becoming more and more popular. These bags are environmentally responsible and inexpensive. But they can be a food poisoning risk.

How Can You Keep Reusable Grocery Bags Clean and Safe?

These bags are made of canvas, cloth, woven synthetic fibers, or plastic. They may seem innocuous, but the bags can carry pathogenic bacteria that can make you sick, especially if you use them to carry raw meat and poultry products.

Then, storing the bags in your car can increase the temperature to the perfect range for bacterial growth, especially during the warmer months.

But there is something you can do: Wash your reusable grocery bags! It’s really best to do this after each use.

If you wash them with soap and hot water by hand or in a washing machine, you can reduce pathogens by 99.9%, according to Stop Foodborne Illness. Some people throw them away rather than wash them, which defeats the environmental purpose of using a reusable bag in the first place. Wiping them out with a sanitizer isn’t as effective as soap and water.

A 2010 study from scientists at Loma Linda University and the University of Arizona found that only 3% of consumers who use reusable bags said they washed them regularly. Most consumers were completely unaware of the need to clean those bags. Hopefully that number has increased in the last few years, but it’s still a good reminder.

And in that same study, the researchers found bacteria in 99% of the bags they tested. Even more alarming, 8% of those bags had E. coli, which is an indicator of fecal contamination.

The researchers concluded by saying that states should print instructions right on the bags, telling consumers that they should be cleaned after each use. Public education campaigns also need to be started, telling consumers about the risks of using these bags without washing them.

Besides washing these reusable grocery bags regularly, consumers should also consider the way they use them. Make sure the bags are completely dry before you store them. Always separate raw foods such as raw meat and poultry from all other foods. Don’t use the bags to carry books or gym clothes. And do not store meat or produce in your trunk on the way home from the store, since bacterial growth will contaminate the bags.

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