dave-mittlemanMost of us are really attempting to put in the effort to protect the environment—at least in the small ways that we can manage during our hectic day-to-day lives.  One of the simplest ways to reduce our waste is to buy a reusable shopping bag.  However, according to recent reports, if you use your reusable shopping bags for multiple purposes or if you never wash your reusable bags, you’re harboring a colony of bacteria. 

According to a University of Arizona study (pdf), out of the 84 reusable shopping bags that the researchers tested, over half were contaminated with potentially harmful bacteria.  Perhaps you are wondering if the bags contained enough bacteria to make you sick.  Charles Gerba, the co-author of the study, says that there were, indeed, enough germs in some of the bags to have an impact on your health.  He recommends washing the reusable bags after using them to carry raw meat, since the food can leak into the bag.  Similarly, below are ten additional steps you can take to continue using your reusable bags, while also maintaining your health. 

  1.  Hand, machine wash or even bleach bags weekly to reduce or eliminate bacteria.
  2. Buy more than one bag and use each for a different purpose.  Even better, label the bags with their use (i.e. clothing, meat, produce, etc.)
  3. Only use your bags to carry groceries.  Do not use the bags to carry books, gym clothes, or other non-food items. 
  4. Double wrap meats in plastic bags before placing them in your shopping bags.  Keep the meat and produce separate.
  5. Refrigerate meats and produce as soon as possible.  Storing parishables in your car trunk can increase the growth of bacteria tenfold.  Also, wash your hands after handling these foods.
  6. Wash vegetables thoroughly before cooking or consuming. 
  7. Cook foods thoroughly.
  8. Clean and disinfect your countertops and other work surfaces in the kitchen before, after, and during food preparation. 
  9. Find out as much as you can about the proper care and use of reusable bags and spread the word.
  10. Find out more at Foodsafety.gov

Overall, I don’t want reusable bags to get a bad name: they are a very good alternative to plastic bags considering plastic bags may take up to 1,000 years to completely biodegrade, take up a lot of space in landfills, and can harm marine life when they are discarded into the water.  Please wash your bags and continue using them to help do your part in protecting and preserving our environment.