Reusable grocery bags are indeed friendly to the environment but studies have shown that these bags may harbor foodborne pathogens. As such, it is important to wash your reusable bags frequently, just like you would with your dirty socks. Simply wash the bags using soap and water, machine dry, and reuse. The use of bleach may be overkill especially when the bags are meant to be environmentally friendly. It is also a good idea to separate ready to eat foods, such as produce, from meat, poultry, and fish to prevent cross contamination. Perhaps designate one bag or bin for meat and meat products and all others for ready to eat products. I have also noticed that people tend to reuse their plastic bags as well, in particular, to carry lunches. Remember that bacteria aren’t picky and if that bag had been carrying raw meat, there’s always the potential of pathogenic bacteria being present, it doesn’t take much.
Reusable grocery bags contaminated with E. coli, other bacteria***
These bags may be friendly to the environment, but not necessarily to you, according to a new report by researchers at two universities.
Reusable grocery bags can be a breeding ground for dangerous food-borne bacteria and pose a serious risk to public health, according to a joint food-safety research report issued today by the University of Arizona and Loma Linda University in California.
The research study – which randomly tested reusable grocery bags carried by shoppers in Tucson, Los Angeles and San Francisco – also found consumers were almost completely unaware of the need to regularly wash their bags.
"Our findings suggest a serious threat to public health, especially from coliform bacteria including E. coli, which were detected in half of the bags sampled," said Charles Gerba, a UA professor of soil, water and environmental science and co-author of the study. "Furthermore, consumers are alarmingly unaware of these risks and the critical need to sanitize their bags on a weekly basis."
Bacteria levels found in reusable bags were significant enough to cause a wide range of serious health problems and even death. They are a particular danger for young children, who are especially vulnerable to food-borne illnesses, Gerba said.
The study also found that awareness of potential risks was very low. A full 97 percent of those interviewed never washed or bleached their reusable bags, said Gerba, adding that thorough washing kills nearly all bacteria that accumulate in reusable bags.