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Study: Re-usable grocery bags a breeding ground for bacteria

Posted July 20, 2010

Going 'green' when buying groceries can have unexpected consequences.
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— Reusable grocery bags are a popular way to be “green,” but there could be a risk involved with using and re-using them.

Many people use them instead of plastic bags, which eventually get thrown away. A study making the rounds suggests reusable grocery bags can be a breeding ground for dangerous food-borne bacteria. But a North Carolina State University professor says don't toss those re-usable bags just yet.

Researchers from Arizona and California found E. coli in 12 percent of the bags they tested. One of the co-authors says the study suggests reusable bags pose a "serious risk to public health."

Food safety expert Ben Chapman is an assistant professor at N.C. State and says he uses reusable grocery bags all the time, even though he's not surprised the researchers found E. coli in the bags they tested.

“The biggest issue isn't so much being able to find it in the bag. It's whether after handling it, it can transfer back to some of the ready-to-eat foods we might put in here,” he said.

When not to use that reusable bag When not to use that reusable bag

Chapman says that's why it’s important to separate raw meats from any fruits, vegetables or whatever else you might buy so that you don't cross contaminate. One option is sticking with plastic bags for meats.

“It's not the most green," he admits.

Or do what Chapman’s family does and designate one or two reusable bags for just meat.

“What we try to do is keep our fresh, our raw meat in a specific bag, and that bag gets washed much more often then the other ones,” he said.

Chapman says the study’s findings are not a reason to stop using reusable bags, but he does want to know more. He said he hopes to do an extensive study of his own and have results in a few months.


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  • NCGirlie Jul 22, 2010

    This study is questionable, wash your bags be well

  • Dr. Jones Jul 22, 2010

    Would be a lot more "green" if you weren't buying meat in the first place.

  • timflowers Jul 22, 2010

    Every day, broadcast media outlets search for a new subject that we should all be scared of. It's good for ratings, I guess. But writing about grocery bags seems to indicate they're running out of scary things.

  • nascarguy Jul 22, 2010

    Lol. Another "green" solution backfires. One common sense solution is to use paper bags as they decay quickly and don't clog our landfills. If you re-use them as trash bags, you can avoid plastic bags twice!

  • Snakebite Survivor Jul 21, 2010

    Hmm... according to other reports, "The study was funded by the Environment and Plastics Industry Council (EPIC), an industry initiative to promote responsible use and recovery of plastic resources." In other words, the plastic bag industry. Not exactly an unbiased source!