Here's How Your Reusable Shopping Bag Could Make You Sick
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Here's How Your Reusable Shopping Bag Could Make You Sick

May 27, 2023

Is it weird to have favourite reusable bags from different supermarkets? Because I’ve been known to plant my weekly shop according to the sturdiness and looks of o good ol’ bag for life (ah, my late 20s).

And while reusing bags is much better for the environment, the Food Standards Authority (FSA) (among others) warns that improper use of your trusty tote could cause cross-contamination.

Spillages, raw meat, and even the skins of fruits and veggies (which you should always, always rinse ― even if you’re peeling them) can all add to the germy effect. In fact, one study found that among randomly-collected reusable bags, “Large numbers of bacteria were found in almost all bags and coliform bacteria in half. Escherichia coli were identified in 8% of the bags, as well as a wide range of enteric bacteria, including several opportunistic pathogens.”

Of course, not every strain of E.coli is going to harm you, and not every germ inside your bag will definitely come into contact with your mouth. Still. “These results indicate that reusable bags, if not properly washed on a regularbasis, can play a role in the cross-contamination of foods,” researchers found.

Here’s why your fave reusable bag could aid the process of cross-contamination ― and what you can do to keep your fave reusable receptacle.

I know you’ve heard it a million times before, but it bears repeating: you should always, always wash your fruit and veg, even if you’re peeling them. “Germs on the peel or skin can get inside fruits and vegetables when you cut them,” the Centre For Disease Control (CDC) warns.

Pesticides, germs, and even bugs can lie on their skins ― so it makes sense that these will come into contact with your bags for life, too. (As an aside, the CDC also says you should keep your veggies separate from meat while packing your groceries.)

Speaking of which, raw meat ― even when carefully packaged ― can still leave its malignant mark. “When meat juices were added to bags and stored in the trunks of cars for two hours, the number of bacteria increased 10-fold, indicating the potential for bacterial growth in the bags,” the study found.

Of course, you’re not putting meat juice directly into your bag, but the research shows the potential of reusable bag material to harbour and host the dangerous bacteria often spotted in animal products. For this reason, the FSA advises throwing away any bags with visible spillages.

I would never ask you to sever such deep ties. But the FSA does have some handy tips for reusable bag owners:

In the study we mentioned earlier, researchers found that “Hand or machine washing was found to reduce the bacteria in bags by > 99.9%.” So, as long as you keep your carrier clean, your bag for life could well be able to safely live up to its name.

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Raw meat and veg can leave lingering germsOK, so... do I just have to give up my beloved bag then?