Reusable shopping bags can be a great way to help the environment. But, reusable bags, which go from the shopping cart to the trunk of the car to the kitchen counter, can be a source of cross contamination.
Cross contamination is one of the top reasons linked to food borne illness in the home. Reusable bags, if not properly washed between uses, create the potential for cross contamination of foods. This potential exists when raw meat products and foods traditionally eaten uncooked -- as fruits and vegetables --are carried in the same bags, either together or between uses. This risk can be increased by the growth of bacteria in the bags.
In a study by Loma Linda University School of Public Health, they found that most bags are never washed and often are used to carry items other than groceries. They also found that storing the bags in the back seat or trunk of the car for two hours will increase bacteria growth 10-fold.
For the study, a total of 84 bags were collected from consumers as they entered stores in Arizona and California. Researchers also tested four new reusable bags and four disposable plastic bags.
Consumers were interviewed to learn how they used, stored, and cared for the reusable bags. About half the bags were used only once a week, and 70 percent were reported as being used just for groceries. About a quarter of the consumers reported using separate bags for meats and vegetables. Other reported uses for the bags were for other shopping, clothes, books, snacks, or to carry biking supplies.
Large numbers of bacteria, including E.coli, were found in the bags consumers were using. The new bags were clean. After testing, the contaminated bags were washed with and without bleach. Results showed that washing with soap and water was as effective as using bleach.
Bags can also become dirty from sitting in the trunk or the floor of the car. That's why it's best not to sit them on the kitchen counter when you get home. And, use separate bags for non-grocery uses such as books, shopping, and other supplies.
The average family brings home 60 plastic bags in four trips to the store. Each year, 12 million barrels of oil are used to make the one million plastic bags we use daily. One reusable bag can save 1,000 plastic bags in its lifetime.
Reusable bags have many benefits.
* They have benefits for the environment.
* They hold about twice as many items as plastic bags.
* They're easier to carry as they have more comfortable handles.
* They won't burst under the weight of heavy shopping items such as soft drinks.
* They reduce the number of plastic bags that are produced, recycled and disposed of.
Reusable bags can be good for the environment --and for you and your family -- with careful use and regular cleaning.
Editor's Note: Ann Ludlum is a K-State Research and Extension family and consumer sciences and 4-H extension agent assigned to Bourbon County. She may be reached at (620) 223-3720 or firstname.lastname@example.org.