Researchers claim reusable grocery bags contain bacteria

July 5, 2010

Researchers at Loma Linda University and the University of Arizona have found that reusable shopping bags, long championed by environmentalists, contain large amounts of bacteria, posing a risk that food could become cross-contaminated. [San Gabriel Tribune]

The new findings come as Sacramento debates a bill that would ban single-use shopping bags–paper or plastic–in favor of the more environmentally-friendly reusable bags.

Researchers discovered reusable bags are almost never cleaned and that bacteria in reusable bags are capable of increasing 10-fold in an automobile’s trunk within two hours.

The bill, introduced by Assemblywoman Julia Brownley (D-Santa Monica), passed the state Senate last month and is now awaiting a vote in the Assembly. Gov. Schwarzengger says he will sign the bill, if passed.

Proponents of the bill say it would save Californians some of the $25 million spent each year on cleaning up bag litter.

San Francisco, Fairfax, Palo Alto and Malibu have all passed ordinances regulating bags and some 40 communities in California are considering ordinances.

Although there has never been a documented case where someone has gotten food poisoning from cross-contamination via a reusable bag, it’s not an unlikely scenario, said Ryan G. Sinclair, an assistant professor of environmental and occupational health at Loma Linda University School of Public Health.

Sinclair said he conducted much of his research by interviewing people at a local Farmers Market. Some 95 percent of reusable shopping bag owners told Sinclair they never washed out their bag.

Washing the bags and letting them thoroughly dry once a week would dramatically drop bacterial counts, Sinclair said.

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What about all those shoppers that gleefully plop their purses or purchases right there in the cart where the baby just sat with a drippy diaper? Talk about gross.

Handling money and carts all day gets gross. Understandably, checkers and box persons would need to wash hands frequently. A lot of fresh meat and vegetables get passed through the check stand areas. I don’t know how often they are disinfected these surfaces are throughout any given day or if there are protocols for this. But I imagine concerted measures would help reduce cross-contamination – from shelves and refrigerated areas to grocery carts and checkouts.

*Correction* “I don’t know how often these surfaces are disinfected throughout any given day…”

Pretty soon after they pass this bill some liberal will start a new bill that states, “all stores that sell groceries must have a guard at the door to inspect people’s bags before entering to determine whether or not they have bacteria.” Then the liberals will claim they are creating jobs.

This is going to be my redneck post for the month. I grew up in a family in the meat/food business. We ate/eat meat, constantly. The words holliday, birthday, event, graduation, funeral all have the same meaning in our language, and that is “food orgy.” Pretty much the ideas of bad and food are mutually exclusive. So forgive me for not understanding why people obsess so much on the coexistence of dead flesh and bacteria. Is this not a good thing?! I have eaten things off of dirty dirty cutting boards soaking with blood in the sun for hour. When I’m busy, my idea of defrosting is throwing the ziploc from the freezer into a pot of warm water, let sit for 6 hours until I remember it. Beef that is not aged is laughed at; the older the better. I have been in the kitchens of many restaurants, and clean is sort of a relative concept depending on many factors. My favorite late night spot ever had a health department FAIL in the window for years.

I’ve gotten food sickness a handful of times, the only one I can specifically remember was as a result of a well cooked hot dog from a clean kitchen. Is this something that is of concern to people who may have other conditions which put them at risk? I am so confused. Am I not supposed to have fungus and bacteria on my meat? I thought it was seasoning, seriously.

What is this thing, “common sense”? Was there a fund from which all could draw to buy dry groceries? I don’t get it. It must be very rare, indeed.

Paul: Thank you for pointing out how subjects should be separated so there is no confusion as to what is being discussed. I will attempt to be more clear in future musings. I’ll even give you a “thumbs up”. :)

Well duh! If you are buying fresh meats (which is were most bacteria is going to develop) and you are not using the plastic bags available at the meat counter to wrap your items, yeah, you’re going to develop a high bacteria count in your bags. Fresh produce can also lead to high bacteria counts, again, especially if you don’t wrap your items in the plastic bags provided at the produce counter. If you are concerned about the possibility of high bacteria in your reusable bags and you don’t want to use the plastic wrap bags, then you better be washing your bags. I personally do use the wrap bags most of the time, but they get recycled by taking them back to the grocery store where they do send those bags back to the plastic bag producer. As for dry groceries, the risk of bacteria would seem to be very low since so much is over packaged. It’s kind of like, why is it called common sense since it seems to be so rare now days.