There’s something down there in the bottom of your “green”, Earth-friendly, reusable shopping bag (along with your old grocery receipts) — bacteria.
As the writers on the LA Times Health Blog Booster Shots point out:
Consider: “Reusable” doesn’t mean “self-cleaning.”
Think about how often you use those bags, and for how many different tasks. Researchers at the University of Arizona and Loma Linda University did, and it prompted them to stop and ask shoppers heading into grocery stores if they wash their reusable bags. By the study results, it looks like researchers got plenty of blank-stare responses. Just 3% of the people interviewed reported they cleaned their bags on a regular basis.
So what’s the big deal? It’s those aforementioned bacteria. Researchers found Coliform bacteria (PDF) (including E. coli) in half of the bags they tested. That means reusing your bags over and over could make you sick.
And it’s even worse if you store your reusable bags in your car. The study found a nice, warm environment like your back seat or trunk in the summer is the perfect place to encourage bacteria growth.
Things get really messy when you throw packages of raw meat into one of your bags one week, leave the bag in the trunk, and then end up using that bag for fruits and veggies on your next trip to the store. I’m not a big germaphobe, but typing that sentence made me say “ew”.
The researchers recommend washing those reusable bags – ideally between each trip to the store (I know, I don’t think that’s 100% realistic, either). Running the bags through the washing machine or hand washing them – with or without bleach – reduced the number of bacteria to just about zero.
The authors of the study recommend requiring printed instructions on the bags encouraging people to wash them and to designate separate bags for raw foods and other food products — but until they get around to that… well, now you know!