Wash Reusable Grocery Bags to avoid food contamination

Published On March 30, 2013

Banning the use of plastic disposable shopping  bags in California has had an unexpected consequence: a spike in deaths in San Francisco, caused from E. coli food poisoning, according to a report published by the Food Poisoning Bulletin.

According to researchers, Jonathan Klick and Joshua D. Wright, both hospital admissions and deaths from E. coli spiked in San Francisco almost immediately following the first phase of that city’s Plastic Bag Reduction Ordinance went into effect in October 2007.  Deaths from E. coli-based food poisoning rose by nearly 50 percent almost immediately, with 34 percent more emergency admissions due to E.coli poisoning relative to nearby counties with no plastic bag ban in place.

The Klick and Wright study in 2011 found that most people don’t launder their reusable grocery bags nearly enough, if at all.

Interviews with shoppers in the 2011 study which involved people living in California and Arizona, showed that only three percent of respondents said they ever wash their reusable grocery bags, and that most people put raw meat – a major source of E.coli – and vegetables in the same bags indiscriminately.  Eight percent of bags tested were contaminated with coliform bacteria.  Bags stored in car boots  proved even more likely to be contaminated: apparently the warm, dark environment there is ideal for culturing microbial nasties.

The study says that “fastidious washing of the reusable bags can virtually eliminate the risks of food poisoning.