E. coli infection spike blamed on plastic bag ban

February 10, 2013

bagbanIn San Francisco, the first major city to pass a plastic bag ban, emergency rooms have seen a spike in E. coli infections and a 46 percent increase in deaths from foodborne illness in the three months after the bag ban that went into effect in 2007, according to a study by professors at the University of Pennsylvania and George Mason University. [HuffingtonPost]

The study, released in August, found a spike in hospital emergency room treatment due to E. coli infections. E. coli bacteria, common in the human intestine and frequent suspects in food poisoning, can range from harmless to lethal.

In October, San Luis Obispo County residents were required to add reusable bags to their shopping lists or pay 10 cents apiece for paper bags to comply with a new ordinance.

The 10 cent charge was enacted to encourage the public to use reusable bags rather than paper. But as people tend to neglect washing those bags, increased food contamination becomes likely.

“Using standard estimates of the statistical value of life,” the study’s authors point out dryly, “we show that the health costs associated with the San Francisco ban swamp any budgetary savings from reduced litter.”

While members of the San Luis Obispo County Integrated Waste Management Authority board argued for and against the plastic bag ban, opponents questioned the safety of reusing cloth bags because bacteria could result in cross contamination and argued against the mandated paper bag charge.

Proponents of the ordinance noted the environmental hazards with plastic bags ending up in waterways, poisoning marine life and polluting landfills.



I’m sorry but the whole bag ban thing is ridiculous. I still see tons of trash on the road both plastic and non plastic. Why not let the waste management folks earn their pay by picking it up instead of trying to eliminate it at our expense…


Because having our beautiful native oaks festooned with those heinous previously-given-away plastic shopping bags is a blight on the urban AND rural landscape.

The supermarkets where I shop still provide the small plastic bags used for produce and to cover packaged meat. I suggest people use common sense and use these bags for those purposes, and then don’t reuse them.

People should not have reused these small bags BEFORE the ban if they wanted to avoid meat- or food-borne organisms because it is difficult to adequately clean the bags such that they no longer can cross-contaminate other items with food- or meat-borne organisms.

I use the used produce and meat plastic baggies to bag up cat litter and other odoriferous waste I will be discarding into the trash. I’m sure there are other uses, too.


Sorry, you have it backwards. What was happening at your expense was that the stores were giving some customers free bags at everyone’s expense. I bring my own bag, so why should I pay for free bags (in the form of higher grocery costs) for those who are too lazy to bring their own. Now, the stores are able to charge customers for the bags they use rather than providing free bag welfare for the lazy.


Take the time to read the “study” (large wiggly finger quotes).

5.5 deaths out of a population of 812,000—the cause of death being any of several infectious intestinal pathogens, INCLUDING e.coli. Not ONLY from e.coli.

The only bright spot in the report is that it reminds us that Americans are stupid enough to combine leaky meat & vegetable packages in the same bag (small plastic bags are still available for that no charge), and don’t care enough about their family’s health to even wash the cloth bags. Sound irresponsible?

Are these the careless, irresponsible individuals you’re identifying with, who need the “protection” offered by free single use plastic bags?


I presume by your post you do not do the family shopping. Try this…you walk up to the stores entrance and to your horror you realize that your bags are in a heap in the back seat of your car. So you walk back to your car in the rain to retrieve the bundle of bags from your rain soaked car. As you shop your bags are in your cart…and they are in the way as you try to place the items in your cart. So you toss them around and around until you can’t remember which bags are for what food items. Well that’s okay… the well schooled bag person will get everything in the correct bag even though you’re one bag short and he or she has to improvise. You see this happening but because the line behind you is ten deep you just grab your over priced bags of groceries and roll them through the rain out to your rain soaked car. Now tell me about wiggly finger quotes.


Life must truly be a calamitous adventure for some.


And life must truly be uneventful and effortless for others? your Wit lacks a point…


We’ve been using cloth bags for over ten years. Sorry you have such a problem with something so incredibly simple a 4 year old could handle it. Suggestion: find a

4 year old.



Really? a four year old?


My only question is “Why do you go shopping on the four days that it rains in this county?”


Really? four days of rain? you need to get together with Hodin and Hodin’s four year old. lol


Do you walk out the door and realize you forgot to put on pants too? Or are reusable bags some sort of special item to you that (unlike your keys, wallet, cellphone, pants, shirt, bra, underwear, etc) it is somehow impossible for you to remember to bring to the store? 99% of the shoppers are able to manage, hopefully you too can deal with this big struggle in your life.


I’ve been dressing myself for most of my life and until lately my choice of grocer has been providing bags for me for all of that time as well…so I don’t foresee myself walking out the door with items of clothing missing but thanks for your concern…


That doesn’t explain why you can remember those items, but not a reusable bag?


Where in the world do you shop?


Should have banned earthquakes in Japan before the bags, then we wouldn’t have to worry about the thousands of tons of trash headed our way!


So now I have to save the environment by not using plastic bags by using water, chemicals and electricity to wash the re-useable bags.

Makes sense in California.

When I tell family and friends outside of California the stupid a$$ laws we continue to pass they first laugh and then they say “why don’t you get out while you can” shaking their heads.


LoL. Good one.

People still think hybrids somehow “save the planet” around here. Yikes.


Good question.


You fail to consider the chemicals, water, and electricity that are wasted to manufacture, package, and distribute the endless stream of disposable bags to feed the demands of lazy selfish consumers. It is a fraction of what is needed to occasionally wash your re-usable bags. You do laundry, don’t you? Just toss the bags in with a load of clothes you were already washing and you won’t be spending any extra chemicals, water, or electricity that you weren’t already using to wash your clothes. Simple.


Personally, the idea of people leaving California sounds really good to me.


The study mentioned in this article is ridiculous junk science. E.coli infections could have gone up for any number of reasons unrelated to the use of reusable bags. Maybe there was an e.coli outbreak at a food processor in the bay area? Maybe it was because McDonalds brought back the McRib? The study didn’t even try to determine if there were cofactors to the rise – it just made a huge and false leap of illogic.

But in any case, you should treat any surface in the grocery store as potentially contaminated and act accordingly, even if you use disposable bags. The item conveyer belt, the surfaces in the store, the packaging of the food itself, etc, they all have the potential for some disease ridden adult or child to smear their hands over and contaminate it with e.coli, staph, etc. Or the checker/bagger might have some illness or didn’t wash their hands after taking a dump 5 minutes ago. There have always been plenty of ways to get sick, even when using disposable plastic bags. This is why food items are packaged in containers. And if it isn’t (things like produce), you should wash it when you get it home before eating it.

It’s common sense people. Saying that people get sick when they negligently contaminate their bags is like saying people can get salmonella from cutting raw meat on their cutting board and not washing it afterwards. If you put your food unpackaged into your contaminated bag and then eat it raw without washing it and get sick, don’t blame the bag!

As the world turns

For years, government encouraged recycling of plastics , saying it would create new “green” jobs, keeps plastics out of landfills, and be good for the environment. Guess what? Small businesses are doing exactly this: they are recycling used plastics and making plastic bags and other items. They have created “green” jobs and a new source of revenue. They have added to the economy.

Government is trying to eliminate the green market/economy they helped to create, once it is producing jobs, revenue and small businesses. If the recycling of used plastics was a failure, government probably would be giving plastic bags away on street corners and there would be no moratorium.

This is government incentive at its best.


We went to the Atown Albertsons grocery store yesterday. I brought my bags and my “packaged meat bag”. I was a good little sheep. I asked the clerk how she felt about the bag ban. She was against it, as was the young woman putting my goods in the bags. She confessed that she too forgets to bring in her bags and often pays the 99cents for the store canvas bag. But she doesn’t shop where she works. She shops at FFL. It occurred to me how those store canvas bags often and proudly advertise the name of the store. So I asked her about this. She said she didn’t care if Albertsons knew she shopped at FFL. it’s all about saving money, right?


While not really on-topic, I would be very careful of Food-4-Less (FFL) as they often have near-expired or expired items on the shelves. Now, it happens at all markets, sure, but FFL seems to have it more often. To top it off, the produce quality is very lacking (like their “last” to pick out the produce, or get whatever the other markets don’t take).

But the checker was correct, in the end it is about saving money. This reminds me of a slogan I once saw: You can pay your doctor or you can pay your farmer. (was a healthy, whole-foods type slogan).


I bought 6 canvas grocery bags that I keep behind the seats of my pickup, I just throw them in the was with my whites (with a little bleach). Problem solved. People should pick their battles, I like the ban, already I have seen the number of plastic bags blowing around the beach drop to zero.


What was the number blowing around before “1” ???


LoL, that’s what I was thinking. I didn’t see a whole lot of plastic bags blowing around, either.


That’s because they were stuck in the trees. Nothing says “poor ignorant trash” like an environment where plastic bags festoon the trees.


If I toss a bunch of toothpicks on the ground can you count those too?


Sadly, CalCoastNews only included parts of the original Huffington post article and edited out all paragraphs that questioned the study, therefore eliminating balance from the article and instead promoting the singular point of view that the ban must have caused a spike in disease.

Specifically, the original article stated:

“The study was harshly criticized by environmentalists, as its authors received monetary support from the American Chemistry Council, a trade group representing the interests of plastic bag manufacturers.

Many plastic bag ban proponents said the new study is also largely inaccurate.

“[Its] assertions are completely ridiculous and unfounded,” Jennie Romer, Atlantic region director of the Clean Seas Coalition and founder of PlasticBagLaws.org, told The Huffington Post. She said the study focused on a period before the ban took effect, “so this data would not be relevant.”

Furthermore, it is well known that correlation does not imply causation. The spike in e.coli could have been caused by hundreds of factors unrelated to plastic bags. In short, the study is junk science funded by an industry with a vested interest in repealing the bag ban.

Also, other studies have shown that the amount of e.coli that you find in reusable bags is a fraction of the amount that could be harmful. One study found that you’d get more e.coli from eating a salad than you would from licking the dirtiest bag in the study.


Follow the money!


Say it aint so, an enviromentalist group criticial of an article negative of the bag ban, and bag ban proponents stae the article to be inaccurate, well duh!!!!!

The spike in e.coli is George Bush’s fault.

I bet I can get you a reuseable bad that you’d be afraid to lick….


Why does it not surprise me that the study itself is ‘tainted’?

I’ve used cloth bags for groceries for over 20 years. No e.coli ever and I’m not compulsive about washing them.

Special interests just love them some sheep.


So are we to believe that the chemical companies paid the hospital to inflate or lie about their figures? I mean, the number of cases have to be recorded and reported; but because a special interest group paid to see what those number are (and it worked to their favor), we’re to not believe the hospitals and reporting?

Normally, I don’t trust numbers, especially from the government or green movement, but the figures are so high, one would think there’d be an easy “counter-report” – I’ll wait to see that before I just throw this out the window.

I would have preferred a sustainable, bio-degradable bag before a “ban” on all plastic bags. Sure, the bio-degrading ones don’t have the shelf-life, etc. but it would have sure solved a lot of problems. I’d pay a nickel a bag for ’em, too. Or let the retailers cover the cost like they have for years, taking it from profits to be more competitive.


“….taking it from profits to be more competitive.”

Dream on. It is more like “sticking all customers for the cost of the bags they have to provide for those who can’t quite grasp the concept of keeping grocery bags in the car.”

And who are these people for whom keeping grocery bags in the car is such a challenge? Should they be allowed to even DRIVE cars? If such a little thing like keeping grocery bags in the car is such an insurmountable and vexing challenge, driving a car is way beyond their skill set.


You don’t mean to infer that CalCoastNews has a Fox like slant to their “news” do you? It isn’t “Fair and Balanced” either?


I see what you mean, the spoon fed liberal drool off MSN, CNN is fair and balanced??? eyes rolling

Niles Q

sloslo wrote:

“Furthermore, it is well known that correlation does not imply causation. The spike in e.coli could have been caused by hundreds of factors unrelated to plastic bags. In short, the study is junk science funded by an industry with a vested interest in repealing the bag ban.”

Wow, one could say the same thing about global climate change, couldn’t they?

The main problem is, and this is endemic to the entire scientific world today, no one does science for the sake of science anymore.

Every bit of research and every study is done under some grant from someone with a dog in the hunt, example — this study on the reusable bags. If the same study were paid for by the anti-plastic bag people, the results could probably be predicted easily.

I personally hate the stupid bag ban because I keep forgetting to bring a bag into the store. I find myself rushing out to the truck to grab a bag.

I still don’t understand why we have to be charged 10-cents for a paper bag? Why can’t the stores give those away as a courtesy to their customers if they choose to do so? That to me is the most asinine aspect of the whole bag ban.

And BTW — I believe most of the plastic bags and other litter you see along the streets comes from garbage trucks. The wind pulls light-weight items like plastic bags right out the top of the trucks as they rush through their routes every day.

Why doesn’t the IWMA require the garbage company to cover these loads? If I want to go to the landfill my load better be covered or the CHP will be on my butt with a ticket. But the garbage trucks get a free pass?

Something’s not right there.


The idea behind the ban bag is to decrease environmental damage. Cutting down a tree because a customer finds it too challenging to remember to bring a grocery bag to the store does not decrease environmental damage. By charging 10 cents for a paper bag, it is an incentive not to remember to bring your own danged bags with you.

And what in the world contributes to your idea that most of the bags on the side of the road comes from trash trucks? Or is that just something that came to you by yourself?