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Those Icky, Reusable Bags

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Here’s something you probably don’t think about as you hand out recyclable and reusable shopping bags to your customers: Bacteria.

reusable_bags.jpgYep, there’s a whole bunch of bugs that can take up residence in a shopping bag used more than once. A series of swab tests performed on bags in Canada last November showed high bacterial counts on the bags, as well as on reusable plastic containers some shoppers also use for bulk products.

Now, before anyone douses their bags in bleach and washes them 10 times, we should point out that the study was funded by the Environment and Plastic Industry Council, a trade organization representing plastic bags (among other products). Excerpts were published on the website, foodproductiondaily.com.

Researchers concluded their report with five recommendations, which I found to be sound and, quite frankly, pretty objective, given the source of funding. In no particular order, they are:

— More research is needed to study the scope and depth of potential bag contamination and their sources.

— Certain products, such as meat, should always be double-wrapped in one-time-use bags, regardless of recycling or environmental concerns.

— Consumers should be educated on the need for regular cleaning of reusable bags.

— Best practices should be developed to help both consumers and retailers regarding proper bag use, sanitation and replacement.

There’s one more suggestion, and this could be seen as the most biased one: Reusable bags should be included as possible sources in investigations of food-borne illness.

But even here, I don’t find the recommendation to be especially egregious or outrageous. On the whole, I think the guidance is pretty straightforward and sound. I mean, for what else could these bags be used? Just the act of shopping could compromise cloth or plastic bags. After all, we’re handling bulk produce, cash, shopping carts and any number of other items in a typical store — any one of which could be contaminated with something.

What’s most interesting about this study is that it’s yet another reminder that there are two sets of values that need adjusting as we set about saving the environment — one that applies to the world around us, and the other that concerns ourselves. Unfortunately, our zeal sometimes causes us to neglect the latter, to our detriment.

(Photo credit: Lindsay/thetbone)

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