Inhale, exhale, because you've done the right thing by toting your reusable shopping bags on all of your grocery shopping trips. But if you're anything like me, or 97 percent of the people who participated in a recent research study conducted by the University of Arizona and Loma Linda University, you've never washed your reusable bags, and there's a good chance they're contaminated with E. coli or other bacteria.
Before reading about this study's findings, it hadn't dawned on me that I needed to launder my reusable bags on a weekly basis, as researchers suggest. In hindsight, it seems obvious. I type this as my reusable sidekicks air dry after their inaugural wash. And I'm sure you'll want to be near your washing machine after learning the following facts.
Researchers note, "Our findings suggest a serious threat to public health, especially from coliform bacteria including E. coli, which were detected in half of the bags sampled, bacteria levels found in reusable bags were significant enough to cause a wide range of serious health problems and even death. They are a particular danger for young children, who are especially vulnerable to food-borne illnesses."
The good news is, a thorough washing will kill nearly all of the bacteria that accumulates in reusable shopping bags. Other tips that bring-your-own-bags consumers may benefit from in the quest to keep it clean:
- Separate raw foods from other food products when packing bags.
- Specify reusable bags for individual purposes to avoid cross-contamination. I.e: have a set for groceries only, a set for library books, a set for gym gear, etc.
- "Do not store meat or produce in the trunk of your car, because higher temperatures promote the growth of bacteria, which can contaminate reusable bags."
*I originally authored this post for EcoSalon.