Reusable shopping bags are good for the environment and they help reduce our reliance to single-use plastic bags that harm our landfills and surroundings in general. But, is using these reusable bags over and over safe for the food your family eats? A study from researchers at the University of Arizona and Loma Linda University says that reusable shopping bags can give a home to potentially harmful bacteria if they’re not properly cleaned on a regular basis. Cross contamination of foods is primarily the reason for most food borne illnesses.
Here are a few tips to eliminate contamination risks brought by using these reusable bags:
Wash Your Reusable Bags Regularly
Shopping bags must be washed after every use. This is especially true for bags that are used to carry produce, meats, and precooked meals. Bags that are meant to carry dry goods can go a bit longer between washings. However, washing these bags also depends on what type of material they are made of.
- Machine Wash – Cotton and hemp reusable grocery bags (the easiest bags to wash) are machine washable using cold water. A delicate cycle and natural detergent is always preferred for all natural fiber bags. Some polyester, nonwoven polypropylene, and recycled PET reusable bags can be machine washed but use cold water only and air dry (don’t put them on the dryer as they are a plastic and will often melt!).
- Hand Wash – Reusable bags made in jute are advised to be hand washed using warm, antibacterial, soapy water. Same routine also applies to bags made from nylon and recycled PET. Let them air dry completely (inside out) to make sure that moisture (can turn into molds) is totally gone.
- Wipe Down – Laminated reusable grocery bags (either recycled PET or polypropylene) can be wiped down using a wet cloth. Same routine also applies to other non-fabric reusable bags. Antibacterial or disinfectant sprays are also ideal to use in cleaning these types of bags, but make sure to also clean the inner seams!
Sort and Assign Specific Reusable Bags to Specific Tasks
To avoid contamination, own more than one bag and label or assign a different color for each of the types of items you are going to put inside.
- Meat – Choose a bag that can be identified easily. Select a color or design that reminds you that it is your “meat bag”. Always wrap meat in a separately before placing it in reusable bags. This is to prevent juices from the meat to sink into the bag and contaminating it. Make sure that reusable bags for meat are machine washable and don’t forget to wash them when you get home.
- Produce – Reusable produce bagsare a great alternative and more eco-friendly than using the plastic ones. Load your fruits and veggies into these bags and don’t forget to wash them (both the bag and your produce) when you get home.
Only Use Reusable Grocery Bags for Groceries
Use reusable grocery bags to carry groceries only – no diapers, chemicals, garden supplies, or gym clothes. Transporting items that are frequently touched and rarely cleaned (like books) can uncover your food to outside contaminants.
Store Your Reusable Grocery Bags in a Cool, Dry Spot
As we all know, both heat and moisture encourage the growth of mould that further develops into bacteria that cause diseases. Whether you air, hand, or machine wash your reusable bags, make sure to dry them out completely then find a temperature-controlled spot in your house to store them. This also means that you should never leave your unwashed reusable grocery bags unattended. It will only cause bacteria to multiply!
Reusable shopping bags are pretty easy to clean if you know what materials they’re made of and how often you use them. A rule of a thumb: When in doubt, wash your bags! If bags are worn and dirty, throw them out! J
You may also want to check out this quick video to know how to perfectly clean your favorite reusable bag: https://youtu.be/Rsw-ErFM2lc.
P.S. When was the last time you cleaned your shopping bags? :D