October 10, 2011
Reusable shopping bags were one of the first and major pushes of the "green" movement I can remember. Purchasing reusable bags was a small change that everyone could make without much effort. The bags were cheap (about $1 a pop) and available virtually everywhere, from Trader Joe's to Walmart. But can these bags that were meant to help actually be harming?
A study from microbiologist Dr. Charles Gerba at the University of Arizona revealed that the vast majority of us do not wash our reusable shopping bags between trips (or really ever) and that these bags are becoming breeding grounds for dangerous bacteria, including E. coli.
Dr. Gerba and friends tested a little less than 100 shopping bags in California and Arizona and surveyed their owners, discovering that only 3 percent washed their bags. Many people even used the bags to tote things other than groceries, like gym clothes. As a result, Dr. Gerba found lots of bacteria in almost every bag, with 50 percent containing coliform and 8 percent containing E. coli.
If you think about it, this all makes perfect sense. You use these bags to transport raw food (meats, eggs, dairy, unwashed veggies), which may contain bacteria or, if the remnants are left in the bag, can go bad or develop into more serious bacteria. Plus, they might sit in a hot car for long periods of time, allowing the bad stuff to fester.
To combat this problem, Dr. Gerba recommends washing bags with hot soapy water after each use, however annoying it might be, and having the store clerk put meats in separate plastic bags before tossing them in with everything else.