What’s growing in your reusable bag?

    Those reusable grocery bags thought to be helpful to the environment are also creating habitat for creatures. Bacteria, in particular.

    Headlines this week warned shoppers that their reusable grocery bags may “poison” them. A study from researchers in Arizona found these bags often harbor bacteria known to make people sick. WHYY’s health and science reporter Kerry Grens has more on the risk of eco-friendly shopping.
    (Photo: Flickr/foldablebags.com)

    E. coli and other bacteria populated about half of the reusable grocery bags that researchers randomly sampled outside Arizona and California grocery stores. Juices that leak from meat packages can foster bacterial growth. Shoppers repeat, but almost never rinse. Ninety-seven percent of them never washed their bags.

    Some news outlets dubbed the bags “mobile bacteria farms.” But the risk to human health actually appears to be fairly low, says Don Schaffner, a food safety expert at Rutgers University.

    Schaffner: And it looks to me from reviewing the results that washing these bags is an effective control measure. So the message is use these bags, but use them with caution and at the same time certainly wash them on a regular basis.

    The researchers also recommend limiting a bag’s purpose, and not toting gym clothes or school papers in the same bag that is used for food.


    The original headline included a brand name type of reusable bag.

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