Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Hazards of Reusable Grocery Tote Bags

Many people are trying to be eco-conscious and 'green' minded these days so we tag along our plastic or cloth reusable grocery tote bags to our local grocery store, Whole Foods or farmers market hoping to save the landfills from more paper (or plastic if the store still uses it).  But something many people don't realize is that those good intentions can also jeopardize our health. Most of us don't know (I certainly didn't) that those bags can be incubators for food borne illnesses, and that it's very important to clean and disinfect the bags often.  According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, only one in six people do it regularly. Apparently, this is non-negotiable if you want to make sure you don't cross-contaminate food.
"I think a lot of people are trying to be mindful and eco-friendly by using their totes and they are not realizing that a lot of cross-contamination with the foods they are buying is actually happening directly because of the totes and the canvas material that they are made from," said Registered Dietician and Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics national Spokesperson Marjorie Nolan.
Food can make you very sick if you are not careful about how you handle, prepare and store it. I guess we can now add reusable grocery bags to the equation.

Nolan explains the different ways that we can contaminate our bags, that I frankly never even thought about.
"One is as simple as setting your bag down on the floor or on dirty counter tops," Nolan said. "Also, when you think about perishable goods, they sweat especially in the heat or the summertime when you are transporting your groceries. So the sweat from dairy products or eggs as well as meats, especially raw meats is highly contaminable."

Okay, so now we know how, what can we do to prevent it?

It's recommended that you wash the bags, often, with soapy, hot water, by hand or in the washing machine. You might even want to use a bleach, or disinfectant on the inside of the plastic ones.

Disinfect the areas you place the bags, i.e. kitchen counters.

Wrap all meats, fish etc in thick plastic bags before you put them in your tote, you might also want to double plastic bag them. Of course, that kind of takes away from the whole attempt at being eco-friendly, but better safe than sick. And it's even more preferable if you relegated one bag solely for raw meat and fish products. I'd disinfect those particular bags immediately after use.

The website Home Food Safety also recommends not leaving the totes in your car, which I do.

Lots to think about.  Off I go to retrieve my Costco coolbag from my trunk to disinfect it.

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