Studies Cast Doubt on Safety of Reusable Bags But Are They Reliable?
A recent study claimed that reusable shopping bags are a pivotal link in the spread of E. Coli. According to the report, in the three month period after the ban was enacted, San Francisco saw an increase in the number of hospital emergency room visits attributed to E. Coli. The report also claimed there was a 46% increase in the number of deaths related to food-borne illnesses. This is not the first attack on reusable bags (and it is unlikely to be the last), but before you toss out your reusable bags in the name of public health, review the facts and make up your own mind.
Know Your Sources
The first study that questioned the safety of reusable bags was conducted by the University of Arizona and Loma Linda University and was published in 2011. From a research perspective, the findings of this study are flawed due to the extremely small sample size – only 84 reusable bags were tested. It is also worth noting that this study was partially funded by the American Chemistry Council, an organization that has been a vocal opponent of plastic bag bans. Since the American Chemistry Council has a clear agenda against reusable bags, that casts a shadow on the results.
The more recent study was conducted by researchers from the University of Pennsylvania and George Mason University and is also causing quite a stir. Once again, as with the first study, the methods used to conduct this study are questionable. Tomas Aragon, the Health Officer of San Francisco, did a great job laying out the flaws in the methodology and inaccurate findings of this study in this article.
Reusable Shopping Bags Should Be Properly Cared For and Cleaned Just like Other Household Items
Reusable bags can pick up germs anyplace and simply taking the time to wash the bags will kill viruses and bacteria before you or your loved ones become infected. When properly cared for, reusable grocery bags are completely safe.
When not properly cared for reusable bags can spread bacteria – the same way kitchen countertops and dishtowels can also spread germs if not cleaned. Reusable bags are not the health hazards a couple of recent studies would have you believe. Making the switch to reusable shopping bags can be a big transition since it involves more than just remembering to grab your bags when you head to the store. Routinely washing your reusable shopping bags is key –and this is a step people are bound to develop as they make the transition and using reusable bags becomes second nature.
The material the bag is made from dictates how the bag should be cleaned. Many reusable bags can be tossed in a washing machine or washed by hand. The heat generated by a dryer may damage bags constructed from recycled plastic so when in doubt, air dry your reusable bags.
Use Specific Bags for Specific Tasks
Reusable bags are typically intended for carrying groceries, but they end up being used for so many other tasks because they are just so handy. To prevent the spread of bacteria you should assign specific uses for your reusable bags. Make sure you only use the bags you dedicate to grocery shopping for that task, and if you use a bag to carry items to work or the gym, make sure those bags are only used for those specific tasks. Taking this precaution will ensure contaminates picked up from the locker room at your gym are not accidently transferred to your produce or vice versa.
With a little maintenance and common sense you can keep your reusable shopping bags clean and prevent the spread of bacteria and germs.