Reusable bags are an environmentally friendly way to preserve nature and slow down our pollution production rate. Plastic pollution is correlated with the low cost of plastic, which leads to massive and disposable use of plastic in many forms. By using reusable bags we can reduce the use of plastic bags that take anywhere between 50 to 1000 years to decompose in landfills.
Are you interested in switching to reusable bags: don't forget to wash them!
Reusable grocery bags can pose serious health risks, according to a food safety study conducted by the universities of Arizona and Loma Linda University Medical Center in California.
The medical center is an Adventist university hospital on the campus of Loma Linda University in Loma Linda, California. It is world-renowned for the surgical procedures in proton therapy and infant heart transplantation.
Their research showed that after several uses, these bags provide a very favorable environment for the development of bacteria like Escherichia coli.
In their report, they point out that many food poisonings are linked to inadequate handling or storage of food. In this sense, reusable bags would promote cross-contamination between foods.
As part of their research, they randomly collected 84 grocery bags, mostly woven polypropylene, used by consumers in: Tucson, Los Angeles and San Francisco. They took the opportunity to ask these people about their habits of using, storing and cleaning their bags.
The results were unattractive.
The results of their analyses speak for themselves: most of the bags were found to contain bacteria, half of them were coliforms. They are mostly not pathogenic except Escherichia coli. 12% were found to have Escherichia coli (E. coli). For comparison, new bags were also tested and no bacterial presence was detected.
According to the study, 97% of consumers surveyed have never washed or disinfected their reusable bags, and one-third admit to using them to transport food or other items indiscriminately.
In order to eliminate almost all bacteria and avoid contamination, the researchers recommend a good washing by hand or in the washing machine depending on the type of bag. This has also been the case for Health Canada since mid-June.
On its website, the federal agency points out some useful guidelines to prevent cross-contamination, including placing meat, poultry and fish in plastic bags before placing them in reusable bags. This prevents blood and other fluids from draining and contaminating other foods.
At a time when grocery stores are promoting the reusable bag to replace the traditional disposable bag, governments need to educate the public through information campaigns. Since this is a public health issue education is the only solution.
With this in mind, consumers may one day see washing instructions included in their reusable bags.