I have been trying REALLY HARD to remember to take and use my reusable bags when I go grocery shopping. Emphasis being on the TAKING! I have such a hard time remembering to bring them with me to the store. (See Tips For Remembering Your Reusable Bags at the end of this post.)
But when I DO remember I feel good about the fact that I’m helping reduce waste and pollution and saving resources. Did you know that a single set of reusable shopping bags could eliminate as many as 20,000 disposable plastic bags? (Again, that’s assuming you remember to USE them each time!)
Reusable bags are a good thing! But did you ever stop to think about whether your reusable bags were clean? I know I didn’t! And apparently I’m not alone!
Researchers at the University of Arizona and Loma Linda University asked shoppers headed into grocery stores in California and Arizona, if they wash their reusable bags. Most shoppers — 97%, in fact — reported that they do not regularly, if ever, wash their bags.
The researchers tested 84 of the bags for bacteria. They found whopping amounts in all but one bag, and coliform bacteria (suggesting raw-meat or uncooked-food contamination) in half. And yes, the much-feared E. coli was among them — in 12% of the bags.
But the GOOD NEWS is that they also tested the effectiveness of washing the bags which they found reduced bacteria levels to almost nothing.
So, I think you know where I’m going with this….we all need to get in the habit of cleaning our reusable bags to make sure they’re both eco-friendly AND safe.
Here are some tips from the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FoodSafety.gov):
Wash reusable grocery bags often.
- Cloth reusable bags should be washed in a washing machine using laundry detergent and dried in the dryer or air-dried.
- Plastic-lined reusable bags should be scrubbed using hot water and soap and air-dried.
- Check that both cloth and plastic-lined reusable bags are completely dry before storing them.
Always put raw meats into a disposable plastic bag before putting them in a reusable bag.
- A disposable plastic bag helps contain any juices that drip off of raw meat packages, which can touch other foods and contaminate them. Disposable plastic bags are usually available in the raw meat or produce areas of your store.
- Throw away disposable plastic bags used for raw meat immediately after use. Never reuse bags that contained raw meat or poultry.
Keep meats, fresh produce, and ready-to-eat foods separated.
- Use separate bags dedicated for meats, fresh fruits and vegetables, and ready-to-eat foods. It’s also a good idea to keep these foods separated in your shopping cart, at the checkout line on the conveyor belt, and at home. This will help reduce cross-contamination.
- Remember that cold food needs to be refrigerated within two hours of leaving the store or market. Cold food should be refrigerated within one hour when temperatures outside are above 90 degrees.
Store reusable bags at home in a cool, dry place, not in the car.
- Store reusable bags in a cool, dry place, such as in your home or in the garage. Higher temperatures, like those inside of a car or a car’s trunk, can cause germs like Salmonella bacteria to grow faster.
Do not use reusable grocery bags for other purposes.
- Bags used for groceries should be used only for food. Don’t carry items such as baby bottles, toys, gym clothes, and other items in the same reusable bags that you take to the grocery store.
As I was researching this topic, I came across another great tip from Lea at A Drop Of This for keeping reusable bags safe and clean between washings. She came up with her own Reusable Grocery Bag Disinfectant Spray. Simply add equal parts of water or vinegar (or a combo of both) to a spray bottle and 1 drop of your favorite essential oil per 1 oz of water (or vinegar) and shake well. Each time you unload your groceries give the inside of the bags a generous spritzing. This doesn’t REPLACE washing…but can help keep the nasties at bay.
Here’s a list of a few antibacterial essential oils: Bergamot, Cinnamon, Clove, Cypress, Eucalyptus, Lavender, Lemon, Oregano, Peppermint, Rosemary, Sage, Tea Tree, Thyme
These simple steps will help you to reduce cross-contamination, and help keep you and your family safe from harmful bacteria.
Photos by Anna Gleave
Now…if I could just remember to take my CLEAN bags with me to the store!
Here are a few MORE tips!
- Store your bags in the place you associate with shopping, like right next to where you hang your purse!
- It actually pays to BYOB. Lots of stores now offer CASH incentives for using your own bags. Maybe the thought of cold, hard cash will jog your memory! :-)
- If that freebie bag you got at the auto show doesn’t get you excited about taking it shopping…invest in a cute fabric tote! Now you can be environmentally-friendly AND fashionable at the same time.
- Make sure that “TOTE BAG” tops your weekly shopping list. Take advantage of reminders on your phone as well.
It takes a little effort, but eventually BYOB will become second nature.
Are you in the habit of washing your reusable bags?