Warning: Your reusable bag may potentially be harboring several different kinds of bacteria.
This was the finding of a recent study by Dr. Charles Gerba at the University of Arizona published in "Food Protection Trends."
Gerba tested 87 reusable bags from random shoppers in California and Arizona in summer 2010 and found nearly all of them contained some form of bacteria, and eight percent contained E. Coli.
So the solution is simple: Wash your reusable bags.
This, according to Dr. Gerba, will remove 99.9 percent of germs. "Although it may be a nuisance, washing must be done to ensure your food is safe to eat," said Gerba. "I'd recommend washing it with hot, soapy water after each use."
He added that it was important to pay attention to meats and dairy products.
But there's no reason to panic, and no reason to stop using reusable bags. Bringing your own bag to the grocery store as well as retail stores will reduce the need for plastic bags, which don't break down for thousands of years. If you're buying something and you don't need a plastic bag, let the checkout cashier know — think twice about it.
It's also great eliminating the plastic bag monster from under your sink, believe me!
After using several different kinds of reusable bags — everything from canvas to recycled plastic to polypropylene, I think my favorite ones are the ones that you can compact down into a pouch and easily throw into the wash.
Brands include ChicoBag, Baggu and EnviroSax. They actually carry a pretty good amount once you open them up, but are easy to store away in your purse when you're not using them. And they're also easy to throw into the wash.
You can find the abstract to the study on the International Association for Food Protection's website.