Wash Reusable Shopping Bags to Prevent Foodborne Illnesses

By: Mindy Stone Email
By: Mindy Stone Email

Many of us use reusable bags to carry our groceries home from the store. But a recent study found bacteria growing in some of them. The study was done by the University of Arizona and Loma Linda University in California. It showed reusable bags create the potential for food contamination.

We collected 10 bags from different KKTV employees and took them to the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs to be tested.

"We swabbed the bottom and some of the seams. Then we took the swaps and swapped on a plate, which all bacteria cells should grow," said Biology Instructor Wendy Haggren.

They also swabbed a red-colored plate, which would only show more harmful bacteria like e-coli and salmonella. The plates were kept in a warm environment for 24 hours at human body temperature.

We need to point out it was not done in the exact same way as the other research study, which randomly tested reusable grocery bags carried by shoppers in Tucson, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Large numbers of bacteria were found in almost all the bags and E-coli was found in 7 of the 84 bags sampled.

So what about our bags? 24 hours later, three of the 10 bags we sampled had some type of bacteria growing on them. Some of which had the potential to be harmful.

"Did you think we'd find more than you did? I did, so did I," said Haggren.

The dirtiest bag belonged to reporter Mindy Stone. Most of the bacteria found inside the bag are found on human skin, but some of the bacteria come from the soil or from human intestines. Haggren says it probably got there because the bag was used for other purposes like carrying dirty gym shoes.

But in this study, E-coli and salmonella were not identified.

"I was pleased that our approach found few gram negatives, such as E-coli," commented Haggren.

Bernadette Albanese, Medical Director with the El Paso County Health Department says it doesn't necessarily matter how you get your groceries home from the store. It's all about how you handle your food once you get there to prevent most foodborne illnesses.

"What's most important really is once you get your food inside your home and your prepping it for your meals, that's the time you need to pay most attention to how your handling it," said Albanese.

Albanese recommends washing your hands and cleaning the surfaces in your kitchen after you unload from a trip to the store and before you start preparing food.

Also, be sure to wash your reusable bags on a regular basis to help reduce bacteria.
Most of the bags have instructions printed on the tag.

Another recommendation is to separate meats and vegetables in your grocery bags. You might also want to keep those reusable bags in your home rather than in the trunk of your car ... Because the hot temperature can increase the number of bacteria.

KKTV would like to thank UCCS for their help in that test. If you'd like to read the original research study from two universities on the west coast, click on the link below.

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