One of the simplest and least expensive ways to “go green” is to use reusable bags. These bags can be used for carrying groceries home from the store and may also seem perfect to double as book bags, gym bags, or catch-alls. But a new study shows that although these bags are environmentally friendly, they could make your family sick if you don’t take care of them properly.
A combined study at the University of Arizona in Tucson and Loma Linda University in California reveals that reusable bags may pose a serious health risk based on bacteria levels in the bags. The study randomly tested reusable bags in Tucson, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. The result was a dangerous level of coliform bacteria including E.coli found in half of the bags tested. E.coli is the common abbreviation for Escherichia coli, a group of bacteria that can cause diarrhea, urinary tract infections, respiratory ailments, and pneumonia.
UA Professor Charles Gerba said, “Our findings suggest a serious threat to public health.” Bacteria levels in the bags were high enough to cause potentially serious health problems and even death, especially for young children who are most vulnerable to food-borne illnesses.
But don’t throw away those reusable bags just yet! A thorough washing, especially using bleach, will kill nearly all the bacteria in the bags. That sounds simple enough, but according to the study, 97 percent of people questioned said they never washed or bleached their reusable bags.
The study scientists provided these tips to prevent reusable bags from making your family sick:
• Keep raw foods, like meats and vegetables separate from other foods when placing them in the bags.
• Do not store meat or produce in the trunk of a car – higher temperatures can promote bacteria growth.
• Wash reusable bags each time they are used to carry raw foods.
• Do not use the same bags for grocery shopping and to carry books and other items.
The bags that tested positive for bacteria were made of woven polypropylene and had been used more than once by consumers. New reusable bags and new plastic bags available in stores did not contain bacteria.