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Those “green” grocery bags can make you sick

Posted by Richard on June 29, 2010

Do you bring reusable grocery bags to the store, shunning the "paper or plastic" choice? Stop feeling so smug and self-righteous. Unless you're the rare exception who religiously washes them, you're putting yourself and your family at risk for serious illness:

They’re good for the environment, but reusable grocery bags can be a breeding ground for dangerous food-borne bacteria and pose a serious risk to public health, according to a new report.

Researchers randomly tested bags carried by shoppers in Tucson, Los Angeles, and San Francisco and found bacteria levels significant enough to cause a wide range of serious health problems and even death.

They are a particular danger for young children, who are especially vulnerable to food-borne illnesses, says Charles Gerba, a University of Arizona professor and coauthor of the study.

“Our findings suggest a serious threat to public health, especially from coliform bacteria including E. coli, which were detected in half of the bags sampled,” says Gerba. “Furthermore, consumers are alarmingly unaware of these risks and the critical need to sanitize their bags on a weekly basis.”

A full 97 percent of those interviewed never washed or bleached their reusable bags, adds Gerba, noting that thorough washing kills nearly all bacteria that accumulate in reusable bags. Most of the bags tested were made of woven polypropylene. New reusable bags and plastic bags were tested; none contained any contamination.

The report comes at a time when some members of the California Legislature, through Assembly Bill 1998, are seeking to promote increased consumer use of reusable bags by banning plastic bags from California stores.

“If this is the direction California wants to go, our policymakers should be prepared to address the ramifications for public health,” says coauthor Ryan Sinclair, a professor at Loma Linda University’s School of Public Health.

I'm going to stick to the plastic bags from the store. I use them for my trash, to line wastebaskets, etc. If the enviro-nazis ban them in Colorado, my stockpile will last a while.

After that runs out, I'll have to buy plastic bags to use for those purposes. So how will that be a gain for anyone except the sellers of plastic bags? Hmm, maybe they're secretly behind the "green" plastic bag bans.

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3 Responses to “Those “green” grocery bags can make you sick”

  1. Hathor said

    You can have mine, if you pay for shipping.

    Those “green” bags make excellent cheap tote bags.

  2. RedPencil said

    So. How does the ‘green’ label hold up if you factor in the environmental costs of detergent, water, and power necessary to wash the bags? Sounds to me like plastic bags may actually be the ‘green’ option.

    Also, a small but credible sampling of grocery store clerks suggests that the “reusable” bags significantly slow down the process/cost more labor at the checkstand than the “environmentally insensitive” plastic bags. While that may be “good” from the mindset that making a task take longer will employ more of those who “need jobs”, it can’t really be good for the environment; if it increases the number of grocery store clerks by 1 %, wouldn’t it also increase the number of miles driven by grocery store clerks, etc?

  3. rgcombs said

    ”You can have mine, if you pay for shipping.”

    Thanks, I think I’m good for the next couple of years. 🙂

    ”So. How does the ‘green’ label hold up if you factor in the environmental costs of detergent, water, and power necessary to wash the bags? Sounds to me like plastic bags may actually be the ‘green’ option.”

    I wouldn’t be surprised. A number of years ago, when styrofoam coffee cups were commonly used, but under attack, a study concluded that when you account for the greater energy cost to manufacture and ship ceramic mugs, and then repeatedly wash them, styrofoam is the more environmentally responsible choice.

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