More and more, U.S. consumers are demanding that businesses “go green.”
Reusable bags are undoubtedly environmentally friendly. Depending on the type, most multi-use bags last for at least a year – sometimes for much longer. The longer they last, the dirtier they become and it isn’t just dirt that’s a problem – it’s bacteria too. If you carry your groceries in reusable bags, you need to wash your reusable bags on a regular basis.
The bag comes full circle
Before the mid 1800s when mass-production of paper bags began, shoppers had to bring their own sacks to carry their purchases. Paper bags were first offered for sale, then when store owners began supplying them free of charge, reusable bags were no longer necessary. Paper was exchanged for plastic in the 1980s but the same reasons that drove the paper-to-plastic shift have also brought about bag bans. The environment and money. Single-use plastic bags are bad for the environment and are expensive for retailers and increase costs of utility and maintenance services due to clogged water systems and excess plastic.
We have come full circle from reusable bags, through paper grocery sacks and plastic bags, returning to reusable bags. Though reusable bags are simply plain common sense, they can become a hazard if another common-sense rule is not followed. Hygiene.
Food in the store comes home
In the 1800s, the only “grocery store” was the “dry goods store” and it only offered “dry” products – flour, sugar, salt along with other supplies for the home. There was no meat or dairy section, no refrigerated section and certainly no frozen food. Most non-dry food was either produced at home or obtained directly from the farmer.
Today, most consumers purchase all of their food from retail outlets. Meat, dairy products, produce, and bread are carried home right along with the “dry goods.” Most of us also scrupulously avoid cross-contamination in the home. Dairy and meat products are prepared separately from other foods and even stored separately in the refrigerator and spillages are cleaned up.
We generally package meat and dairy separate from produce and also separate from cleaning products to reduce the chance of a meat package, dairy container, or cleaning product leaking onto other food. With reusable bags, though we may separate our foods during transport and clean up any obvious messes that occur, we need to go a step farther. We need to wash those bags on a regular basis.
Wash your reusable bag
The numbers of reported food contamination events and foodborne illness rates have risen at the same time as the return of reusable bags. Most of the events have been linked to the source – as in spinach that was contaminated at the processing plant – but reusable bags can also contaminate food with bacteria that was left behind. In fact, tests have shown that up to 99% of reusable bags may be contaminated with bacteria and other microorganisms. Fortunately, those same tests showed that a good wash will eliminate most, if not all, of that bacteria.
To help prevent food contamination, you should keep separating food products but you probably don’t need to wash your reusable bags every time you use them. You should store them in a cool, dry place (not the trunk of your car), wash them on a regular basis and any time there is a spill.