Reusable Bags: Good for the Planet, Bad for Your Family

Your reusable shopping bag may be helping you to do your bit for environmental wellness, but you could be doing so at the expense of your family’s well-being. This is according to researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and George Mason University, who note that your reusable shopping bag could be filled with enough wellness-damaging bacteria to send your family to hospital. Why? You’re not washing it enough.

The use of plastic bags by retail stores was banned in Seattle in July last year, but this followed a much earlier plastic bag ban by San Francisco in 2007, who eliminated the use of plastic bags in large supermarkets. In fact, in October this year, San Francisco will call upon all stores and restaurants to give up the plastic, so it seems, then, that plastic is starting to head for the exit door. However, three months after San Francisco’s first ban went into effect, an unusually high number of patients started going into hospital for emergency treatment of E. Coli infections.

When University of Pennsylvania and George Mason University looked into state and federal data on emergency room admissions and food-borne illness deaths, they discovered that, after the ban, the number of food-born illness deaths in San Francisco rose by a whopping 64%. The authors wrote, ‘Our results suggest that the San Francisco ban led to, conservatively, 5.4 annual additional deaths.’ Even though wellness experts have questioned the study, based on the fact that it raised more questions than it answered and may have been conducted with “sloppy” research, one thing is clear — reusable bags can be contaminated with germs, and need to be washed properly.

In 2010, researchers at the University of Arizona and Loma Linda University tested reusable bags for bacteria, discovering coliform bacteria, an indicator of pathogens, in 51% of them and the potentially deadly E. coli in 12%. Only 25% of the bag owners used separate bags for meat and vegetables, and 97% admitted to not washing their bags regularly. Considering that throwing your reusable bag into the washing machine once a week reduces bacteria by more than 99.9%, surely it’s worth the bother.



Comments are closed.