Most of the time, when we return home from the farmers' market or grocery store, we unpack our reusable bags and forget about them until the next shopping trip. But a recent study has some people suggesting we need to pay more attention to bag cleanliness in order to prevent contamination and bacteria growth. So, we're curious:
The study, entitled "Assessment of the Potential for Cross Contamination of Food Products by Reusable Shopping Bags," was conducted by researchers from the University of Arizona and Loma Linda University. Through interviews and reusable bag tests, the researchers discovered that few consumers wash their reusable bags and a "potential significant risk of bacterial cross contamination exists from using reusable bags to carry groceries," particularly when raw meat and fruits and vegetables are carried in the same bags. Furthermore, they detected coliform bacteria in more than half of the bags and E. coli in 12 percent of the bags. Keeping the bags in the trunk of a car could increase the bacteria tenfold.
Is this something to worry about? Shots, NPR's health blog, says no and points out some shortcomings or even misleading aspects of the study. In addition to noting that the study was funded by the American Chemistry Council ("which by the way represents some disposable plastic bag makers"), NPR reports that most of the bacteria and even E. coli strains the researchers found are not harmful.
Still, it's probably not a bad idea to wash our shopping totes and produce bags from time to time. (The researchers concluded that hand or machine washing could reduce the numbers of bacteria in reusable bags by more than 99.9 percent.) For bags that can't be laundered, cleaning might be done with a cloth and warm, soapy water and/or white vinegar, followed by a thorough dry in the sun.
Emily Ho is a writer, recipe developer, and educator. She lives in Los Angeles, where she teaches classes on food preservation, wild food, and herbalism. Emily is a Master Food Preserver and founder of LA Food Swap and the international Food Swap Network.
Read more from Emily »