25 June 2010

Reusable bags found to be dirty

"A reminder to shoppers who use reusable grocery bags: Don't forget to wash them after you've emptied them... "

Why? Read more here

Maybe you don't need to wash your reusable bags after every time you use them but it is encouraged to wash them once in a while for health safety. If you carry raw meats in a reusable bag it is probably a good idea to wash that bag every time to prevent the spread of bacteria.


  1. Wow! I never really wash my reusable bags... I never thought of it and Thanks to your blog that I just read. I def will wash my reusable bags by my hand wash afterward.

  2. i must disagree... that's the single-use plastic/paper companies' scare tactic for lawmakers and folks.

    how many of us disinfect our remote controls and the doorknobs we use day in and day out? they're probably way more dirtier than our reusable bags. sorry, jose, that scare tactic ain't working on me.

    plus i'm a vegetarian, so no raw meat goes in my bags anyway - for people who eat meat - just cook your meat fully, and wash all utensils and dishes that come in contact with your meat - and i wash all my veggies/fruits before eating, so that solves all of the problems associated with dirty bags :)

  3. I agree and I disagree. I still think it is good idea to wash or hand wash reusable bags with biodegradable or homemade soap now and then.

    First I speculated this is the scare tactic started by plastic and paper companies which is probably true. Second I wonder if the materials they use to make bags make the differences. For instance, I prefer clothes bags over the typical supermarket reusable bags because the materials and fabrics they use to make them are different from the conventional clothes bags that we've been seeing since the 1970s (or long before that).

    Also accidental contamination such as E.coli and Salmonella can happen to conventional and organic leafy vegetables. Researchers have shown that contamination happens much more so with the conventional leafy produce because the farmers do not follow the strict protocol in handling manures and dirt like with the certified organic farmers. And most supermarkets do not separate conventional vegetables from organic vegetables. The spread of contamination can easily happen in supermarkets if vegetables are not treated with care. Unfortunately we are seeing more and more E. coli cases with leafy vegetables than before.

    I bag unwrapped fresh produce and fungus in my clothes bags when I shop for food at the farmer's markets, the co-op store and supermarket. Sometimes I forget to shake the veggie/fungus flakes and remainders out of the bags. Once I found two or three rotten mushrooms molding inside a bag and it was disgusting. I had to rinse out the bag and hand wash them. When I feel like it I will hand wash them if the bags look too dirty or moldy. If they are just dirty I'll throw them in with my towels and/or clothes then I will air dry them. I don't think I am making any more impact on the environment by washing my clothes bags once in awhile.

  4. i'm sorry i wasn't clear - i meant i disagree re: the propaganda for this. i don't disagree with washing your bags. wash them as often as you'd like :)

    also my comment may make it may seem as if i don't wash my bags. i DO wash my bags - when they fail the sight/smell test - that principle applies to everything else too - if my clothes stink, in the washer they go. if my toilet looks dirty, i clean it. i think anyone with common sense would do this... don't carry around a dirty or stinky reusable bag! :)

    compare two scenarios:

    a lettuce with e. coli goes in your very clean, freshly washed reusable bag. you bring it home. you eat the lettuce. you become sick. and you say, "but i washed my reusable bag before putting lettuce in it!".

    a lettuce with e. coli goes in your single use, sanitized, disposable plastic bag. you bring it home. you eat the lettuce. you become sick. and you say, "but i got a single-use sanitized, plastic disposable bag for my lettuce!"

    the end result is still the same - wash your damn produce before eating it :)

  5. part of my "eyes rolling" reaction to this is because i'm frustrated how our capitalist society has manipulated our understanding of 'cleanliness' as in to wear deodorant, use laundry soap, shampoo, conditioner, lotion, disinfecting sprays, disinfecting wipes, toothpaste, toilet cleansers, dusting sprays, make up remover, and a million more including "produce" wash soap for people terrified of e. coli in the produce - while water in most cases will do just fine.

    it's just one huge mass market for single-use or cosmetic applications all based on taking advantage of our fear of becoming sick or dirty. how did everyone do it back then? we all used one basic item to clean everything.

    and e.coli's actually our friend. it lives in our gut. it's certain strains of e.coli that aren't good for us, and it's crass capitalism behind the spread of e. coli. if you look at cdc or fda pages you'll see the only times hundreds of people are infected with e. coli at once is usually because the company was too focused on making a profit/increasing supply and neglecting policies requiring systematic cleanliness of our produce and meat prior to selling them.

    the problem also lies with the public - they need to wash the produce before eating them! and cook their meat well. restaurants too. so having clean bags doesn't mean we don't have to wash our produce. i wash my produce regardless if i have a clean or a dirty bag, period, because my kitchen is the "last stop" before it goes in my mouth.

    and fyi the e. coli shows up more in conventional vs. organic produce isn't necessarily true. in fact, some argue that e.coli shows up more in organic produce than conventional ones,

    e.g. "Americans believe that organic food is healthier than conventional fare by a 2-1 margin, reports John Miller of National Review. But Miller demonstrates that the reverse is far closer to the truth. "Organic foods may be fresh," he points out, "but they're also fresh from the manure fields."

    but the bottom line is:
    “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention…has not conducted any study that compares or quantitates the specific risk for infection with Escherichia coli O157:H7 and eating either conventionally grown or organic/natural foods. CDC recommends that growers practice safe and hygienic methods for producing food products, and that consumers, likewise, practice food safety within their homes (e.g., thoroughly washing fruits and vegetables).”

  6. EcoDeaf,
    Thanks for the reminder, I do need to wash my bags. I also use plastic bags as trash I use in the small kitchen. I did not think about the meat in the recyclable bags I bought at Wal-Mart. Gross.

    I do not understand other commenter here accusing of propaganda originated by the plastic bag company. How would they benefit it with such propaganda? Before these recyclable bags (cloth), I used to use those plastic bags again until I got sick of it. It looked harder to use them recycle plastic bags for the clerk as they try to straighten it on the handle.

    Thanks for the reminder.


  7. Yes, you are right that people will get sick or die from certain E.Coli strains. I do not know too much about it and I get mixed messages from articles. However I remember the E.coli outbreak with spinach last year. That wasn't the first time I have heard of the case. It usually starts from the large conventional farm(s). Our agriculture farms went mastodonic and they are getting out of control because we're seeing more frequent food recalls with their leafy vegetables. That's we need to support smaller, eco-friendly farms by buying their food to break down the large, corporate farms. I do not think vegetarians need to be concerned about the spread of E.coli or foodborne pathogens as much as meat eaters however I think everyone should be aware of the possible cross contamination from using the same reusable bags when bagging uncooked meats and unwrapped vegetables together. I think that maintaining the strict vegetarian and vegan diet will reduce the chances of getting sick from food. I guess this falls under the common sense to wash the reusable bags when it looks too dirty or smelly. I hardly wash my reusable bags. I rely on my intuition.

    BBF, this research could be funded by the single paper/plastic companies. Supermarkets buy paper and plastic bags while we as customers don't, so the single paper/plastic companies are hurting from not selling as many paper and plastic bags before the reusable bags went mainstreamed.

  8. well, maybe i wash my reusable bags more often because i'm so clumsy! i'm always spilling something on them or in them, resulting in a mandatory visit to the washing machine :)

    yes, you're right, e. coli comes on veggies and meats so it doesn't matter if you're a vegetarian or a meat eater. ultimately what matters is washing your veggies well and cooking your meat well.

    here's to food safety... ! thanks for a great discussion!

  9. Anthony,

    From what I have seen, I still believe that plastic bags are leading. It is still being
    use a lot. It is the cloth bags that I don't
    see that much of. They do not fit on the
    handle of the plastic bags that well. The
    grocery companies will figure it out someday.


    Here's to food safety!! :)

  10. BBF, That's true that plastic bags are still leading but more places are banning plastic bags as we speak. San Francisco banned plastic bags. Now California is in the motion of banning free plastic bags so we will see if that bill passed or not. Think about the loss of profits that single plastic bags companies are facing even if it is just with one city like San Francisco. So I am sure the plastic bags companies are panicking right now. BBF, where are you from? I am not sure if you reside in New York but we're seeing a lot more supermarkets and departmental stores asking people to buy reusable bags and bring their own bags in my area. We have signs on the entrances of the supermarkets and departmental stores: "Don't forget to bring your reusable bags" everywhere now. When I shop at supermarkets to get certain food that my co-op stores don't have, I see more and more people bringing in their own reusable bags. Time will tell, I guess!

    Another reason I concluded is that many people are new to using reusable bags and they haven't developed the habit of separating raw meats from vegetables or even washing the bags when they're too dirty. Some people especially with weak immune system can get sick when they do not wash and/or cook their food. Therefore maybe the health department is reminding the people to keep their reusable bags clean. I am very curious who is really behind the movement, the health researchers or the single plastic/paper companies or maybe both. It's hard to tell which but both seems valid to me.

    Raychelle and BBF, I agree! Here's to food safety!!

    Great intense discussion!