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Reusable Grocery Bags Carry E. Coli and Bacteria Contamination

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by hearit

hearit's picture
In The News

Reusable Grocery Bags could pose more of a health hazard than improve the Green environment—with 97% never washed, holding items that have been placed in grocery carts, conveyor belts, and raw meats and food, bacteria abounds. Among the plethora of bacteria discovered in reusable bags--50% contain Coliform bacteria, at least 12% E. Coli bacteria.

Researchers at two universities--University of Arizona and Loma Linda University--questioned grocery store shoppers who were headed into stores in the states of California and Arizona. The question at large: whether shoppers wash those reusable grocery bags that are supposed to save our environment and lend us all a “greener” planet.

A whopping 97% of people reported that they do not regularly, if ever, wash the reusable grocery bags they carry and use for all kinds of things. With the remaining 3% probably afraid to answer truthfully, 97%-100% could be a more accurate estimate of just how many people don’t bother washing those Reusable Grocery Bags.

Three-quarters of grocery store shoppers surveyed said they don't use separate Reusable Grocery Bags for meats and for vegetables (even if those shoppers truly wanted to separate meats from produce, good luck ensuring that happens, unless shoppers are bagging their own food—it’s hard enough for grocery shoppers to ensure the products they paid for are actually in a bag, and not accidentally left on the conveyor belt by the cashier).

To make anyone shudder, consider the exterior surfaces alone that Reusable Grocery Bags touch or come in contact with: filthy grocery carts—including the top section which doubles as a seat for childrens’ rears, conveyor or checkout counters at the grocery stores, car seats and trunks, and hands that “handle” the handles—after handling everything else in the store. Your Reusable Grocery Bags aren’t being handled just by shoppers—they’re also handled by the grocery store cashier or baggers, and any store employee who helps shoppers load those bags into the car.

Now consider the fact that the insides of those Reusable Grocery Bags are bound to be equally filthy—exterior packaging of the foods shoppers are purchasing are first placed into germ-infested carts and conveyor belts. Whatever’s on the outside of those packages is going on the inside of those Reusable Bags—again and again.

Roughly one-third of grocery shoppers surveyed also admitted that they reuse the Reusable Grocery Bags for everything under the sun—that includes everything under the sun that also carries the potential to be germ-infested. Among the list of items that shoppers admit to throwing into the Reusable Grocery Bags: snacks, books (which are repeatedly handled, and probably carry the unthinkable in terms of bacteria)—probably even laundry, when things get dire.

Researchers tested 84 of the Reusable Grocery Bags, to test the bags for bacteria—testing revealed, of course, a plethora of good old germs. Those results beg the question whether the benefits to the “Greener Environment” are going to be outweighing benefits, or detriments, to health.

That’s right--massive amounts of bacteria were discovered in all but one of the Reusable Grocery Bags tested in the study. Coliform bacteria, the specific presence of which suggests either a raw meat or uncooked-food contamination, was present in at least 50% of the tested Reusable Bags.

What about E. coli? The infamous E. coli bacteria was of course in the mix of tested Reusable Grocery Bags: 12% of the tested shopping bags was positive for presence of the E. coli bacteria.

The entire research report—contained in the attached link—can be found for the non-faint-at-heart interested in the full-length version of the “Assessment of the Potential for Cross-Contamination of Food Products by Reusable Shopping Bags”.

In short, here’s what researchers of the Reusable Grocery Bags testing had to say about results:

"It is estimated that there are about 76,000,000 cases of food-borne illness in the United States every year. Most of these illnesses originate in the home from improper cooking or handling of foods.”

But, researchers continue: “Reusable [Grocery] bags, if not properly washed between uses, create the potential for cross-contamination of foods. This [cross-contamination illness] potential exists when raw meat products and foods traditionally eaten uncooked [i.e., fruits and vegetables] are carried in the same [reusable] bags, either together or between uses. This [health] risk [of cross-contamination] can be increased by the growth of bacteria in the bags."

The study, funded by the American Chemistry Council, is being offered up as context in discussions about the California legislature bill that pushes for a “Greener Environment” and hopes to avoid landfill additions: California Bill AB 1998. Passing of California’s AB 1998 would entirely ban the single-use plastic bags currently used in grocery and mini-mart stores. The upside with single-use bags—their one-time use greatly reduces potential for bacterial contamination.

Researchers also assessed the effectiveness of washing the Reusable Grocery Bags. While machine-washing or hand-washing reusable grocery bags does reduce bacteria levels to almost zero, the odds of people actually taking the time or effort to wash reusable bags is also about zero.

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