Knowing how to clean reusable grocery bags can protect your family from serious food-borne illnesses. 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 know to clean 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 your hands, which you then used to touch your keys, eyes, sunglasses, doorknob (that everyone else in your family will be touching), refrigerator handle, sink faucet… Oh, boy!
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?) Then, next time they might put a cantaloupe, for example, in the very bag that previously carried oozing raw chicken. Now the germ-covered cantaloupe goes on the kitchen counter where it gets sliced open and, in the process, those raw chicken germs get dragged through fruit… and eaten.
So what’s the solution? Choose bags wisely and clean them often.
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.
Buy 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 hottest possible water 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. Or use bleach.
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: