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Reusable Grocery Bag Safety

Updated May 14, 2013

 

The Safety of Reusable Grocery Bags




A number of cities in Santa Clara County, as well as nearby counties, have banned the use of plastic bags at grocery stores and similar retail establishments.


These bag bans are to encourage use of environmentally-friendly reusable bags. Questions have now been asked regarding whether there are potential health risks from reusable grocery bags.


It is plausible that reusable grocery bags could become contaminated and pose an increased risk of infection if they are not regularly cleaned. Anything that comes in contact with raw foods – cutting
boards, kitchen utensils, your hands, etc., as well as whatever you use to transport your groceries – can become contaminated with potentially dangerous microorganisms. Grocery bags, whether
reusable or disposable, could become contaminated from time to time with infectious organisms such as Salmonella or E. coli.

 

In theory, that could lead to cross-contamination of other items subsequently placed in those bags days or even weeks later, which in turn could lead to human illness. Moreover, reusable grocery bags are often stored or transported in environments exposed to pets, children, and other potential sources of microbial contamination. Although contamination
may be as obvious as a dripping package of chicken, it is more likely to be invisible.


An important question is whether the hazards of reusable grocery bags are worthy of more concern than cross contamination with other possible sources common in a grocery store: food items coming in contact with the conveyer belt, the meat counter, or poorly-wrapped animal-based products.


The Santa Clara County Public Health Department supports the use of reusable grocery bags and recommends that consumers lessen any theoretical risk by:

  • Individually wrapping high-risk fresh foods in disposable plastic bags before putting them into their shopping carts, or at least not transporting raw meats in the same bag as other food products.
  • Not using reusable grocery bags for other purposes, such as carrying books, laundry, or gym clothes.
  • Washing reusable grocery bags—ideally with hot water and sanitizer.
  • Choosing reusable grocery bags that will withstand frequent laundering.

 

Download statement from Health Officer

 



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