We’re all encouraged these days to take reusable grocery bags with us to the market to reduce the amount of plastic we use and throw away. This has become a habit for me–in fact, I try to leave the bags in my car at all times so that I have no excuse not to use them.
However, many people don’t realize that it’s very important to regularly wash cloth shopping bags to prevent cross contamination of foods that lead to food-borne illness that can occur due to bacteria left behind from previous uses. For example, carrying raw meat in a bag and then using it for raw vegetables during the next shopping trip.
A study performed by The School of Public Health at The University of Arizona in Tuscon tested 84 reusable shopping bags collected from people in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Tucson. A number of coliform bacteria were detected in half of the bags tested, with E. coli found in 12% of the bags. In addition, they infected empty reusable bags with Salmonella and placed them in warm car trunks and found that the bacteria increased in numbers 10-fold within 2 hours. This means if you're storing your bags in your car, like me, it's even more important to keep them clean.
Thankfully, washing the bags, even in the absence of bleach, reduced the bacteria to undetectable levels, indicating that washing alone is an effective cleaning method. If your bags are plastic-lined or laminated, a disinfectant spray can be used between uses. Even a wipe down with warm, soapy water and drying them well would be better than not washing them at all.
Are you washing your reusable bags???