The trend of swapping disposable grocery bags for cloth and plastic-lined reusable bags has become an increasingly popular “green” alternative.

Reusable bags reduce waste, true — but how safe are they for your health?

The problem with such bags is that the fabric or materials in reusable grocery bags can get contaminated with germs like Salmonella or E coli from food or other items. These bacteria could then contaminate other things that you carry, making you and your family sick.

Also see: 52 cute and colorful reusable shopping bags

Envirosax Anastasia Reusable BagIf you use reusable grocery bags, here are some simple steps that you can follow to reduce cross-contamination and keep everyone healthy.

Wash often
  • Read the care labels on your bags to determine whether they should be machine washed, hand washed, or wiped clean with a non-toxic cleaning agent.
  • Reusable cloth bags can usually be washed in a washing machine using laundry detergent, and dried in the dryer or air-dried.
  • Plastic-lined reusable bags should be scrubbed using hot water and soap and hung to dry; let them dry completely, both inside and out.
  • Bags may also be cleaned with a disinfecting wipe or spray after each use.
  • Check that both cloth and plastic-lined reusable bags are completely dry before storing them.
  • If reusable grocery bags have been used to carry non-food items (such as detergents, household cleaners or other chemicals), wash and dry the bags before using them to transport food.
At the store
  • Place reusable shopping bagson the bottom shelf of the grocery cart (below the cart basket where food products are placed).
  • Use separate bags: For example, dedicate one bag to meat, fish or poultry; one for dairy products; one for fresh fruits and vegetables, and another for ready-to-eat foods. At a minimum, meat, poultry, and fish should be placed in separate reusable bags from fresh produce and ready-to-eat foods. This will help reduce cross-contamination.
  • Non-food items should be placed in separate reusable bags from food products.
  • Always put raw meats into a disposable plastic bag before putting them in a reusable bag. A disposable plastic bag helps contain any juices that drip off of raw meat packages, which can touch other foods and contaminate them. Disposable plastic bags are usually available in the raw meat or produce areas of your store.
  • Throw away disposable plastic bags used for raw meat immediately after use. Never reuse bags that contained raw meat or poultry.
  • Remember that cold food needs to be refrigerated within two hours of leaving the store or market. Cold food should be refrigerated within one hour when temperatures outside are above 90 degrees.
  • At checkout, do not place reusable grocery bags on the conveyor belt. Hand the bags to the checker/bagger or, if self-bagging, carry the bags to the bagging area at the end of the checkout counter.
More about bags
  • Storing reusable grocery bags in the trunk of cars is not recommended. During the warmer months, the increased temperatures can promote the growth of bacteria that may be present on the bags.
  • Store reusable bags in a cool, dry place, such as in your home or in the garage, and keep the grocery bags away from sources of contamination, such as pets, children and chemicals.
  • Considering routinely using bags of one color for food items, and bags of a different color for non-food items.
  • Bags used for groceries should be used only for food. Don’t carry items such as baby bottles, toys, gym clothes, and other items in the same reusable bags that you take to the grocery store.

These simple steps will help you to reduce cross-contamination, and help keep you and your family safe from harmful bacteria.

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Myria, originally launched in 1998, strives to deliver more conversation, and less gossip. More intelligence, less eye-rolling. More acceptance, less judgment. And throughout the site: more needle, less haystack. Through life's ups, downs, and everything in between, we want to encourage you, support you, and help guide you. The team behind Myria understands that status updates and selfies never tell the whole story, and that we all have stuff to deal with, and that's nothing you need to hide here. Beyond "been there, done that" - every day, we're still there and still doing it. That's how we know: You've got this.

About: Sources: California Department of Public Health and Montgomery County (Maryland) Government, by Laura Gieraltowski, PhD, MPH, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Original publication date: Dec 24, 2012

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