Study finds reusable shopping bags carry bacteria along with groceries

By Christine Metz

My husband is less than enthusiastic about my “enthusiasm” for the use of reusable shopping bags at the grocery story.

So you can imagine his triumph when he sent me a link to a Washington Post article titled “Your reusable shopping bags are full of bacteria.”

As it turns out, The Journal of Food Protection, a trade magazine for the International Association for Food Protection, recently published a study on the potential for these earth-saving totes to be germ-spreading fiends.

Headed by a group of researchers at the University of Arizona and Loma Linda University, the study collected reusable grocery bags from customers entering stores in California and Arizona.

Here’s what they found:

Reusable bags are seldom if ever washed and often used for multiple purposes A large number of bacteria was found in almost all bags and coliform bacteria was found in half the bags. E. coli was found in 8 percent of the bags. Several opportunistic pathogens were also found. When meat juices were added to the bags and stored in trunks of cars for two hours, the number of bacteria increased tenfold. Gross was the first thing that came to mind after reading the study’s finding. And, then I began thinking of all the things my reusable bags carry besides groceries: work out clothes, dirty smelly sneakers, wet swimsuits, lunches, side dishes to dinner parties.

Then I pictured everywhere they sat: next to my desk at work, on the kitchen counter, more than a dozen of them shoved into a bottom kitchen draw and mostly in the back seat of my car.

And, suddenly it didn’t so impossible that these bags were giant, germ-swapping Petri dishes.

But before you start burning your reusable shopping bag, here’s the good news.

The study found that hand or machine washing the bags reduced the bacteria nearly a 100 percent of the time.

That last part dashed any domestic victory my husband thought he had won with the study – since he does the majority of the laundry at our house.

In closing, the study recommended that the public be educated about the potential for cross-contamination in reusable bags through printed labels or public service announcements.

Consider this your PSA.

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