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How to Use Reusable Shopping Bags Safely

Keep your family safe from dangerous bacteria while you protect the environment


How to Use Reusable Shopping Bags Safely

You can take steps to make sure your reusable shopping bags are clean, safe, and bacteria-free.


Did you know that your reusable shopping bags could pose a health risk if you don’t use them properly?

While reusable bags can make a significant difference in the amount of plastic and paper bags that are disposed every year, recent studies have shown that these bags can be a breeding ground for bacteria. Some reusable grocery bags have also been found to contain high levels of lead. Here is what consumers can do to protect themselves against possible contamination and make sure their reusable bags are safe:

1. Wash the bags. A recent study by researchers at the University of Arizona and Loma Linda University in California found that reusable grocery bags can be a breeding ground for dangerous food-borne bacteria if they are not washed regularly. Researchers found coliform bacteria in half of the bags and E. coli in 12 percent of the bags.

The good news: Washing the bags, either by hand or in the washing machine, reduces the bacteria levels to almost nothing, say researchers. The bad news: As many as 97 percent of the shoppers whose bags were randomly tested for the study said that they never washed or bleached their reusable shopping bags.

2. Separate raw foods. When putting groceries into reusable shopping bags, put raw foods such as poultry, meats, and fish into a separate bag.

3. Do not store reusable shopping bags in the trunk of your car. Higher temperatures inside the trunk can promote the growth of bacteria in the bags.

4. Use reusable shopping bags for groceries only. If you are going to use reusable shopping bags to carry around books, soccer uniforms, gym clothes, etc., keep those bags separate from the ones you use for groceries.

5. Opt for nylon bags such as those made by Envirosax, which do not carry the risk of contamination from lead. A recent study by the Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF), a nonprofit organization that advocates to protect consumer choices, found that many reusable shopping bags contain excessive amounts of lead. The bags in that test were constructed from "nonwoven polypropylene," which, according to CCF, "is typically made in China and can be produced in a variety of ways that either include or exclude toxic heavy metals."

Some bags made from this material are certified contaminant-free, however, so if you use nonwoven polypropylene bags, check with your store to make sure that your reusable bags are free of lead and have not been recalled for lead content.

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