Are your reusable grocery bags making you sick?

By: Health Local Staff Nov 19, 2012
grocery bag bacteria

Grocery bags can quickly become breeding grounds for bacteria including E-coli, Salmonella and Listeria.

For most of our adult lives and even further back we have been asked the ubiquitous question "Paper or plastic?" at the grocery store. No matter which of them we decided to use, the bags were always clean and brand new. Today the process has added another type of bag into the mix with the advent of the reusable grocery bag. Some of these are made of cloth, while others are made of recycled plastics and other materials.

Are Reusable Grocery Bags Really That Dirty?
No matter what types of reusable grocery bags you choose to use, the key word here is "reusable." Can you remember how many times you have used each of the bags in your collection? Do you ever take the time to toss the cloth ones in the washing machine or use a good antibacterial cleaner on the plastic ones? If you are like most of us, you may never have done so, not realizing just how important this simple step can be in the overall health of your family.

If you use reusable grocery bags, it only stands to reason that at some point they are going to get dirty on the inside. There was that bag of apples with a rotten one that got smeared on the inside of one bag; the leaky jar of jelly last week, the bug that got in there and got squashed, the list goes on and on. Even if you are lucky enough to never have a leak and you put all of your meat products in plastic bags, there is simply no way to stop the buildup of bacteria and dirt in your shopping bags.

In fact, the subject of dirty reusable grocery bags has become so important that Dr. Oz recently did a segment on one of his shows about the subject. The general impression was and quite rightly so, that most of us simply toss our shopping bags back into the trunk of our car until we need them. The idea being that as long as they look clean, what is there to worry about? The reality on the other hand can be pretty scary as your reusable grocery bags can quickly become breeding grounds for a number of different types of bacteria such as E-coli, Salmonella and Listeria, that can make you and your family very ill.

This being the case, is it really a good idea to have reusable grocery bags? The simple answer is that yes it is a very good idea from an ecological as well as an economical point of view. For every reusable bag you own, a countless number of plastic bags do not have to be made that will end up in the nearby landfill. This helps to protect the ecology and save everyone money. So how do you take care of your reusable bags to ensure that they continue to be safe to use time and again?

Keeping Your Reusable Grocery Bags Clean
The best possible way to keep your reusable cloth grocery bags clean is toss them in your washing machine using hot water and a strong detergent and then hang them out to dry or use your dryer. Those plastic ones should be washed out with an antibacterial spray or better yet a mixture of hot water and bleach, or hot water and vinegar, as this is just as effective and less environmentally damaging. Once washed and rinsed, you need to let them air dry completely before using them.

Doing this every 10th time you use your reusable grocery bags will remove 99% of all contaminants and reduce the risk of your family getting sick significantly. While reusable bags are the perfect solution to going to the grocery store, if you don't take the time to take care of them, you are not doing anyone any favours.

The Health Local Staff is a team of writers and experts dedicated to bringing you the latest health, nutrition and lifestyle information at