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Rosenwald, Md.
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Posted at 12:17 PM ET, 12/06/2011

Your reusable shopping bags are full of bacteria

UPDATE, 12:17 p.m.: Helpful readers have pointed at potential flaws in this study.

Dear Readers,

I like you. I care about you. I want you to live long, prosper and remain patriotic readers of this blog, clicking whenever possible.

In order to help you fulfill these mutually beneficial goals, from time to time I will need to offer you advice. Today is one of those days. It is imperative that I write to you on a matter of grave importance.

With more municipalities in the state adding bag taxes — Montgomery County launches their 5-cent tax on Jan. 1 — it has come to my attention that one of the ways around the tax — reusable bags — is (here’s comes the grave part) potentially dangerous.

No, really.

I can’t say that I am a subscriber or even a sporadic reader of the Journal of Food Protection, but I learned that it recently published a study with this title: “Assessment of the Potential for Cross-contamination of Food Products by Reusable Shopping Bags.”

As soon as I read that title, I knew I’d be writing this letter.

The researchers collected reusable shopping bags from shoppers entering grocery stores in Arizona and California, and they found that A) “reusable bags are seldom if ever washed and often used for multiple purposes” and B) “Large numbers of bacteria were found in almost all bags.”

Wowsers, I thought. We’re talking e. coli. We’re talking coliform. We’re talking, as the researchers put it, “several opportunistic pathogens.”

I told you this was important. Your bags can cross-contaminate your food. They are menacing vessels of grossness!

UPDATE: (Helpful readers have pointed out potential flaws in this study, including its funding, which came in part from the American Chemistry Council. The council represents the plastics industry, though the group also says at the bottom of this story that its members supply products for the reusable bags.)

Here is a link to some criticism from Consumer Reports. In the article, a scientist at Consumers Union says, “A person eating an average bag of salad greens gets more exposure to these bacteria than if they had licked the insides of the dirtiest bag from this study. These bacteria can be found lots of places, so no need to go overboard.”)

But here’s the really key part of the study, what researchers like to unscientifically call the bright side: “Hand or machine washing was found to reduce the bacteria in bags by > 99.9%.” Translated into layman’s terms, that means this: Washing is good. Washing works.Wash your bags, people!

I’m sorry to burden you with bacteria this close to the holidays, but like I said, with the bag tax in Montgomery County approaching, it was too risky not to. I hope this makes sense. And I hope you throw your bags in the wash tonight. People of Rosenwald, Md., let us not tolerate these degenerate pathogens in our community.

Yours sincerely and cleanly,

Mike

By  |  12:17 PM ET, 12/06/2011

 
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