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The Dirty Truth about Reusable Grocery Totes

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The Dirty Truth about Reusable Grocery Totes

Unwashed reusable grocery bags can carry a host of dangerous bacteria that could contaminate ready-to-eat items such as bread and produce.

Many of us have gotten in the habit of bringing our reusable grocery bags with us on our daily or weekly rounds at the local supermarket. This is commendable, really, as a 2007 figure suggested Canadians take home an estimated 2.86 billion plastic bags annually. However, did you know that in a recent survey by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and ConAgra Foods it was found that only 15 percent of Americans frequently wash their bags?

These unwashed bags can carry a host of dangerous bacteria—from raw meat and other unclean products—that could contaminate ready-to-eat items such as bread and produce, putting us at risk of food poisoning.

Thankfully, reducing our risk of cross contamination is as easy as washing our bags regularly, either in the washing machine (for cotton or bamboo bags) or in the sink with hot, soapy water. Further, keep these tips in mind to reduce the spread of harmful bacteria with your grocery bags.

  • Wrap meat, poultry, and fish in individual bags before placing the items in the reusable bag.
  • Clearly designate a separate bag for meat, poultry, and fish items; do not place ready-to-eat items in this bag.
  • Clean all surfaces where you place your bags, such as the kitchen countertops.
  • Store bags in a dry, clean location.
  • Abstain from storing bags in the trunk of your car.

Other tips for reducing our risk to food poisoning due to cross-contamination include:

  • choosing organic poultry, as non-organic poultry may be more susceptible to a drug-resistant strain of Campylobacter
  • cooking foods thoroughly (Yes, even cookie dough!)
  • washing hands and all cooking utensils and surfaces that come into contact with food
  • keeping cold foods cold; the “danger zone” when bacteria grows fastest is between 4 C (40 F) and 60 C (140 F)
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