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Health Experts: Wash Reusable Tote Bags Used for Grocery Shopping

bacteria may be found in reusable shopping bagsHealth experts are continuing to warn consumers who use reusable bags for grocery shopping of the need to properly clean their tote bags, especially if they were carrying meat, poultry or unwashed produce.

In one 2010 study conducted by California’s Loma Linda University and the University of Arizona, researchers collected reusable bags from random consumers as they entered grocery stores in California and Arizona. When they interviewed the bag’s owners, they discovered that the reusable bags were seldom if ever washed, and often used for multiple purposes.

Large numbers of bacteria were found in almost all of the reusable tote bags, and coliform bacteria found in half of them. Escherichia coli were identified in 12% of the bags, and a wide range of enteric bacteria, including several opportunistic pathogens. When meat juices were added and the bags were stored in car trunks for two hours, the number of bacteria increased 10-fold, indicating bacterial growth.

Increasingly, people are avoiding the use of plastic shopping bags out of concern for the environment. Plastic shopping bags are not biodegradable and so don’t break down upon exposure to air or water, accumulating in landfills and as scattered litter, and polluting the environment for years. A growing number of North American cities are banning the use of plastic shopping bags in retail and grocery stores.

The experts aren’t discouraging the use of reusable tote bags – just warning the public that the bags do need to be cleaned on occasion to avoid a potential risk of contamination and illness. In the study mentioned earlier, hand or machine washing was found to reduce the bacteria in the reusable bags by 99.9%.

Here are some additional Food Safety Guidelines for the use of reusable totes from Michigan State University:

General Guidelines:

  • Frequently wash your tote bags in the washing machine or by hand with hot, soapy water.
  • Clean all areas where you place your bags, such as the kitchen counter or table, to reduce cross contamination.
  • Store reusable tote bags in a clean, dry location.
  • Avoid leaving totes in the trunk of a vehicle.

While Shopping: 

  • Place fresh or frozen raw meat, poultry and fish in separate clean tote bags from produce and ready-to-eat foods.

When using bags to transport non-food items:

  • Make sure to wash your reusable bag if used to transport non-food items, before placing produce and ready-to-eat items inside it.


Photo Credit: EMSL via photopin cc

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