Reusable grocery bags should be washed regularly
Courtny Gerrish reportsPhoto: Video by tmj4.com
Ditching the plastic for reusable bags. It's how many people are now carrying their groceries, but just how clean are those bags?
They're only for groceries, so why bother washing them?
You won't believe what our lab tests found; the results will probably have reusable bag owners grabbing the laundry detergent.
There's no rustle of plastic bags in Adrienne Korpela's or Stacy Kolafa's household. Concerned about the environment, these Wisconsin women grocery shop with reusable bags.
Stacy points out, "it's a matter of convenience and saving the environment." Adrienne has been using the bags for years, "I started using them right after I graduated from college."
The one thing these two don't do? Wash their bags. So what does that mean when it comes to bacteria? They agreed to let us test those bags. Will the results have our two women switching to plastic?
Putting away groceries is a fast process when Adrienne gets help from the family. The fact she shops with reusable bags is a lesson Adrienne's trying to teach the girls. "I think that it is important to show your kids you can do things to help reduce impacts to the environment."
Adrienne admits all the groceries just get thrown in together, raw meat with produce. Even though she's an environmental scientist, Adrienne hasn't given much thought to what could be in her bags. "I think there may be some bacteria in here, but I don't think it will be too bad."
Stacy is a Spanish teacher, and a local actor. Her reusable bags are all purpose. She uses them to carry groceries and her clothes and shoes for rehearsal. "It's handy. I'm using less plastic bags. It's saving the environment." When it comes to washing her bags Stacy's not concerned. "I've never thought 'oh I need to throw it in the washing machine.' "
But microbiologist, Gil Kelley, believes she should. "SF Analytical" in New Berlin tested Stacy and Adrienne's reusable bags; those tests turned up fecal coliforms. Both women had the bacteria in one of their bags. In Stacy's case, the fecal coliform could be from shoes, but Adrienne only uses them for groceries. Kelley tells us, "that indicates to me it came from dirt on produce, or it may have come from the juices from raw meat."
He not only recommends washing them routinely but also wrapping meat and produce in plastic bags. "If you have fecal coliform you could easily have E. coli in it; there could easily be viruses in it."
Stacy was expecting bacteria, but not as she put it, "poop!" After seeing the results she'll make some changes. Like using a different bag for clothes and shoes, but she's not on board when it comes to more laundry. "If I notice it's dirty I'll wipe it out, but I don't know if it will inspire me to do more with the bag itself."
"It's a little gross that it's in the grocery bags," Adrienne commented. She will now throw them in the laundry and continue to be diligent about washing fruits and veggies. "I will still continue to use the bags I think. It's not going to deter me from using the bags."
Washing reusable bags, in hot water and after each use is something Kelley recommends to kill bacteria. One thing those tests also call attention to, the importance of washing your hands after handling raw meat and also scrubbing your fruit and veggies before eating them.