Reusable shopping bags are great. I love them and I’m constantly picking up another one here and there—if I forget to bring a bag with me, my punishment is the cost of a new one, so they’ve sort of multiplied. But you know a green product is catching on when the plastics industry is fighting back in what must be an effort to drum up business.
A recently released report highlights health concerns related to reusable bags. The bags tested had been used but appeared to be clean. The good news is they didn’t find any salmonella or E. coli bacteria on the bags. The bad news is they did find significant amounts of coliforms (a group of bacteria), mold and yeast. Not surprisingly, the older bags had higher concentrations of these bacteria and fungi.
The report was funded by the Environment and Plastics Industry Council—a committee of the Canadian Plastics Industry Association?but the testing was conducted by two independent laboratories. Greenwashing? Perhaps. But while I would normally be skeptical of an industry-funded report, I can see how this sort of makes sense.
Think about it. People are putting meats, unwashed foods and all sorts of items in these bags, so logic will tell you they can get unsanitary pretty quickly. But don’t toss aside your reusable bags just yet. Naturally Savvy has three tips to keep you healthy and happy without reverting back to the plastic bag.
A study by researchers at the University of Arizona found that most reusable shopping bags harbor multiple harmful bacteria. E.coli was found in over 12 percent of the tested bags. Reusable bags are good for the environment but not so good for your family’s health and safety. In a quick survey at a grocery store, 97 percent of shoppers admit that they have never washed their reusable bags.
Cross-contamination happens when meats, produce and pre-cooked foods are placed in soiled bags. And, if you use the bags on occasion as a diaper bag or gym bag, even more bacteria enters the food chain. Here are some tips on proper use of the bags:
- Shopping bags should be laundered after every use when carrying food just as you would launder a kitchen towel.
- Have more than one bag and label them as Meat, Produce, Dairy, Cleaning Supplies. Double bag any items that may leak.
- Use these bags only for carrying food – no gym clothes, diapers, chemicals or gardening supplies.
- Do not leave unwashed bags in your car. The heat is a perfect incubator for bacteria to multiply.
How to Launder Reusable Bags
Some bags have labels with instructions on how to launder. For those that do not, if the bag is a woven canvas bag launder in hot water with your usual detergent. These can be line dried or put into the dryer.
For bags that are made of composite man-made fibers like nonwoven polypropylene and recycled PET, hand wash or launder on the gentle cycle. When washing, turn them inside out and pay special attention to the nooks and crannies around the seams. These bags should never be put in the dryer on high heat. Allow them to air dry. Nylon bags should be laundered the same way.
Top Tips to Keep Your Reusable Bags Clean
Bring Bins My family has two bins we use for shopping. They’re great for heavier items, such as milk and canned and bottled goods. We also use one of the bins for all of our produce. This keeps our reusable bags from getting wet
Separate the Meat and Fish Designate specific bags for meats and fish. Wash these bags regularly—preferably after each shopping trip—to get rid of bacteria. If your bag is fabric, toss it in the washing machine with jeans, and if it’s a plastic material, let it soak in a basin filled with soapy water and either the juice of half a lemon or about a quarter cup of vinegar.
Proper Storage When you get home from the store, don’t just stuff the bags into a closet or a small, confined space. Let your bags air out so any moisture evaporates. A great solution is to hang a small clothesline in your laundry room or garage to pin up the bags when you’re not using them. And on those warm summer days, why not rinse the bags out and hang them outside to dry?