Lots of us take our reusable grocery bags along when we head to the supermarket, so we can feel like we’re doing our part to help the planet. But recent updates to the U.K.'s Food Standards Agency reflect concerns about reusable bags. Because most of us don’t wash them regularly, we’re putting ourselves at risk for foodborne illness.
When researchers from the University of Arizona and Loma Linda University checked levels of bacteria in grocery bags, they found almost half of them contained coliform bacteria and 12% had E. Coli. And that’s what we’re transporting our food in!
No one wants that nastiness near things they’re eating, but we don’t want to ditch our reusable bags and revert back to plastic, so we just need to be purposeful when we use them. Research shows that washing those bags, by machine or by hand, can reduce bacteria by more than 99.9 percent.
According to the U.S. FoodSafety.gov guidelines, we should be separating groceries by meats, fresh produce, and household/dry items when we bag our stuff at the supermarket. That helps lower the risk for foodborne illness, too.
The U.S. Food Safety website, which is updated by the Food Safety and Inspection Service, the FDA, and the CDC, also recommends taking these precautions:
- Wrap raw meat packages in a separate, disposable plastic bag, and throw out the bag as soon as you get home.
- Don't use reusable grocery bags to carry anything other than groceries - so don’t use your grocery bag as your gym bag.
- Avoid storing reusable bags in the car or another hot place, since bacteria spreads more quickly there. Keep them in a cool, dry place instead.