The Partnership for Food Safety Education issued a warning on the Partnership for Food Safety Education Facebook page today, March 1, explaining that reusable shopping bags must be washed frequently. Bacteria in a reusable shopping bag can make you sick.
The Partnership for Food Safety Education also explained that food should be separated with poultry, seafood, and raw meats bagged separately in plastic bags to avoid juice leaking out and contaminating other food and your bag. They suggest that you wash your shopping bags in the washing machine, and, if not possible, to wash them by hand with hot water and soap.
Reusable shopping bags have become more commonly used, especially in locations where single-use plastic bags are banned. You can view an interactive map here that indicates what locations worldwide have adopted this policy. Localities around the country and around the world are adopting this legislation because plastic bags don't break down in landfills. They clog waterways, endanger wildlife, and create a litter problem. However, reusable shopping bags are creating another problem of their own.
According to Huffington Post, reusable shopping bags can contain dangerous E.coli bacteria if not washed appropriately. In a study done by the University of Pennsylvania, they determined that a ban on plastic bags in the San Francisco area resulted in a spike in emergency room visits from E. coli infections and a 46% increase in deaths from foodborne illness in the three months following the ban on plastic bags in 2007.
Huffington Post quotes the author of the study:
"Using standard estimates of the statistical value of life," the study's authors point out dryly, "we show that the health costs associated with the San Francisco ban swamp any budgetary savings from reduced litter."
Huffington Post also referenced an earlier study in Arizona which did random samplings of reusable shopping bags in grocery stores in California and Arizona. E. coli bacteria were identified in 8 percent of all the bags sampled, but washing the bags eliminated 99.9 percent of the pathogens.