Why Wash Your Reusable Bags?

Grocery bags contain lots of bacteria

November 25, 2011 / Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

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(dailyRx News) You're being environmentally conscious, and taking your reusable grocery bags to pack up your food at the store. But do you know how to clean them?

Studies have found that after repeated use, reusable grocery bags – made from all types of materials and fibers – can contain a wide range bacterial colonies. Because these bags carry food home week after week, there's opportunity for food borne illnesses to jump from last week's groceries to this week's. But a simple run through the wash eliminates that risk.

"Wash your reusable bags occasionally to reduce bacterial growth."

More and more consumers are appearing with reusable bags at checkout. And with many cities and states considering bans on plastic bags, that number may increase. Reusable bags cut down on the number of plastic bags ending up in landfills and the environment.

But what lurks inside those bags, overstaying their welcome after the groceries are put away? Several studies have analyzed the microbial levels inside consumers' bags. Most recently, KXAN, a local TV station in Austin, Texas, took ten shoppers' bags to be analyzed at the University of Texas Molecular Genetics and Microbiology Department.

Research assistant Carolyn Fisher found that three out of the seven bags had high levels of bacteria. The lab concluded that the level of bacteria was probably not harmful, but the potential for cross-contamination of food exists within these bags.

For example, if you had a package of meat leak inside the bag, the germs from that package of meat could persist within the bag. Next week, the outside of your bag of potato chips could pick up that germ, and as you reach inside and put a few chips into your mouth, you could put the germ inside your body.

A study funded by the American Chemical Council, analyzing 84 bags, confirms KXAN's results. Half of the 84 bags contained bacteria.

Not all bacteria is harmful. Speaking to National Public Radio (NPR), Dr. Susan Fernyak, director of San Francisco’s Communicable Disease and Control Prevention Division, said that the average healthy person won't get sick from the bacteria found in the bags.

But who wants to carry their food in a dirty bag? It might be worth it to clean your bag every once in a while.

The American Chemical Council study found that 97 percent of the people they interviewed never washed their bags.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
November 22, 2011
Last Updated:
November 25, 2011