Knowing how to clean reusable grocery bags can protect your family from food-borne severe illnesses.
Researchers from the University of Arizona and Loma Linda surveyed customers outside of a grocery store and discovered that most shoppers don’t know to clean reusable grocery bags regularly. Even worse, when they tested 84 reusable cloth sacks, they found coliform bacteria in more than half of them, many in levels too high to count!
HOW DIRTY BAGS TRANSFER DISEASE
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 where someone else’s diapered kid or purse sat. The check out stand’s conveyor belt where the shopper before you plopped a leaky package of chicken. The trunk of your car where last week you’d hauled bags of potting soil or your kid’s sports equipment. Finally, they wind up on your kitchen counter where you’re going to make dinner.
CROSS-CONTAMINATION FROM THEIR CONTENTS
Part of the problem is that many people don’t keep separate bags for meat, produce and other household items. Some folks also buy packages of fresh chicken without slipping them into a plastic bag to catch any dripping juices. We’re trying to cut down on plastic bag use after all, right?
The next time they go shopping, they may put a cantaloupe, for example, in the very bag that previously carried oozing raw chicken. Now the germ-covered melon 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.
How To Clean Reusable Grocery Bags
1. Buy the proper kind of bag. Don’t buy bags that can’t be washed. (I like this canvas set.) Unfortunately, many are made of recycled plastic with cardboard inserts for the bottom and are too flimsy to toss in the washing machine. If yours can’t o in the machine, hand wash them in a sink full of hot, soapy water with 1/4 cup bleach.
2. Mark them. To prevent cross-contamination, use different bags for meats, produce, and household items. If you’re buying natural-colored bags, you can use a laundry marker to write on the handles or go wild and decorate them.
3. Launder properly. If they’re sturdy enough, pop your bags in the washer and use the warm 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.
As for how often to wash reusable grocery bags? I try to do mine after every shopping trip but, let’s face it, sometimes there’s not time between treks to the store. That’s why I like having them color-coded, too, so today’s lettuce never rides home in the same place as Sunday’s chicken.