We all know that reusable grocery bags are better for the environment. Super-savers also know that many grocery stores now give discounts on your total bill when you bring your own. But unless you know how to clean reusable grocery bags, you may be carrying home loads of dangerous bacteria. Don’t worry: it’s easy to fix that problem and keep your bags, and your family, in good health.
Researchers from the University of Arizona and Loma Linda conducted a survey outside of a grocery store and discovered that most (97%) of shoppers don’t regularly wash their reusable grocery bags. To make matters worse, when they tested 84 bags they discovered coliform bacteria in more than half of them, many in levels too high to count.
Now, think about all the things a bag touches as it travels through the store and home: the seat in the front of the grocery cart (you know, where your put your purse or your kid?), the trunk of your car, your kitchen floor, the kitchen counter where you’re going to make dinner. Ew, right? And what about how your hands came in contact with those bags, then your keys, your eyes, your sunglasses, your doorknob (that everyone else in your family will be touching), your refrigerator handle, your sink faucet… Oh, boy!
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Part of the problem is that many people don’t keep separate bags for meat, produce and other household items. Many people also just toss packages of fresh meat in their cart, without putting it into a plastic bag to catch any dripping juices. (We’re trying to cut down on plastic bag use after all, right?) That’s all fine for this trip, but on the next one you may be putting your cantaloupe in the bag that previously carried oozing raw chicken. Now it goes on your counter, then you cut through it and, by doing so, drag those germs right through the fruit you’re about to eat.
So what’s the solution?
Don’t buy bags that can’t be washed. Unfortunately, many grocery stores sell cheap bags with plastic insert bottoms that are too flimsy to toss in the washing machine. If you can’t part with yours, you’ll need to hand wash them in a sink full of hot, soapy water with 1/4 cup bleach.
Consider color-coded bags that can be used for separate purposes. I use blue bags for household items, green for produce, and yellow for meat but you can always come up with your own method.
Wash them! If they’re sturdy enough, pop your bags in the washer and use the highest possible setting. Along with detergent, add 2 cups of straight white vinegar (5% acidity). Between the vinegar’s anti-bacterial properties and the heat of the wash and dry cycles, you’ll kill most of the bacteria without harming your bags.
As for how often to wash reusable grocery bags? I try to do mine weekly, but don’t always remember to do so. That’s why I like having them color-coded, too, so today’s lettuce never rides home on top of Monday’s turkey juice.
My personal favorites: