The Downside of Reusable Grocery Bags

You know those reusable cloth bags that environmentally-conscious shoppers proudly tote to the grocery store? It turns out they may be making you sick. A journalist in Denver set about testing a variety of reusable cloth bags for bacteria, and the results aren’t pretty. Several of the bags had low to moderate levels of bacteria, while two bags had much higher levels. “Wow. Wow. That is pretty impressive,” said Dr. Michelle Baron, an infectious disease expert at the University of Colorado Hospital. “We’re talking in the million range of bacteria.” The solution? Wash the bags after each use. (HT: Stuart Roy) [%comments]

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  1. MikeBarst says:

    I wonder what that would do to the eco-friendly level of the bags.

    Theoretically it is better to make one reusable bag which may last as long as 100 plastic bags. Sure, it takes more up-front resources to make a reusable bag compared to a plastic bag, but the savings are supposed to come in the long run as no more plastic bags need to be made as long as the reusable bag is still usable.

    However, if the bag needs to be washed after each use, that uses up resources to wash the bag, and it will lower to length of time the bag can be used because of the washing’s effect.

    Are reusable bags no longer consuming fewer resources than plastic bags once washing is added to the consideration? (or even, did they ever consume fewer resources?)

    What if they are only washed after several uses instead of after each use?

    Does anyone know of any studies which might have looked at this topic?

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  2. Jason says:

    A study on illness frequency and reusable bag usage would be a lot more meaningful.

    Even the dirtier bags they tested are still probably far cleaner than our keyboards.

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  3. PaulD says:

    Bamboo cutting boards are supposedly naturally bacteria resistant. Perhaps they should make the bags from bamboo fiber.

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  4. ChefBoyRD says:

    Can I get funding to study morbidity and mortality rates for those who use disposable vs reusable grocery bags?

    Just a little perspective – your kitchen is dirtier than the bags, and your refrigerator is worse than your bathroom.

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  5. Jacquilynne says:

    I bet if they tested the shelves at the grocery store, they’d also find millions of bacteria. Or the hands of the people buying groceries. Or the belts in the checkout lane.

    That’s why you wash fruits and vegetables before you eat them, and everything else comes in packages.

    I still have my doubts about how many times I have to re-use my huge, heavy-duty reusable bags to make them less environmentally impacting than the number of thin, flimsy plastic bags I’d have used otherwise, but bacteria doesn’t even begin to factor into reasons why I care.

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  6. Al says:

    Just throw it in with your other washing. Have a few bags and it shouldn’t be an issue

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  7. Metaphorically Speaking says:

    I propose we throw the baby out with the bathwater.

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  8. Dave Kliman says:

    well then, let’s just do away with grocery stores, and grow all our material goods at home, with nanotechnology.

    Better, let’s just download all of society into software, and when we want something we can purchase it virtually. I heard virtual sales are way up this year, anyway.

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