Although a healthy alternative for the environment, those popular reusable grocery bags that are popping up everywhere, actually pose food poisoning risks when not handled correctly.
Only 15% of Americans who use the totes to carry groceries are washing their bags, noted Science Daily, adding that the bags are the perfect breeding ground for some harmful pathogens. Data was derived from a survey conducted by the Home Food Safety program, a collaboration between the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association) and ConAgra Foods.
“Cross-contamination occurs when juices from raw meats or germs from unclean objects come in contact with cooked or ready-to-eat foods like breads or produce,” registered dietitian and Academy spokesperson Ruth Frechman, told Science Daily. “Unwashed grocery bags are lingering with bacteria which can easily contaminate your foods,” she added.
According to Science Daily, some 48 million Americans suffer from food poisoning caused by food borne pathogens such as Salmonella, Listeria, and E. coli each year. “Food poisoning can easily be prevented with practical steps, such as cleaning grocery totes and separating raw meats from ready-to-eat foods when shopping, cooking, serving, and storing foods,” said Frechman.
Frechman pointed out that, to eliminate these pathogens, frequently wash grocery totes—by hand with hot, soapy water, or in the washing machine; clean all the areas in which the totes are stored; do not store empty totes in the automobile trunks; and always store totes in a clean, dry location, said Science Daily.
“When grocery shopping, wrap meat, poultry and fish in plastic bags before placing in the tote, and use two different easy-to-identify totes; one for raw meats and one for ready-to-eat foods,” Frechman added. Frechman also pointed out that raw meats should always be separated from other foods during food preparation, including separate cutting boards. “Don’t confuse them, and always wash boards thoroughly in hot, soapy water or in the dishwasher after each use,” said Frechman. “Discard old cutting boards that have cracks, crevices and excessive knife scars,” she added, wrote Science Daily.
We previously wrote that The Washington Post issued a reminder to wash reusable shopping totes after they’ve been emptied if they will be used again. That announcement followed the release of a study conducted at the University of Arizona and Loma Linda University which found that just about every bag tested came back with large amounts of dangerous pathogens such as coliform—a pointer to fecal matter—and E. coli.
Raw meat or uncooked food contaminants pointing to coliform were found in about half of the bags, while E. coli was found in about 12% of the bags tested.
The study explained that by simply putting the bags through the washer or even cleaning them by hand, bacteria levels were cut down to nothing.