Reduce reusable bag contamination

24 October 2018

Girl looks into reusable green bag view from inside of bag

While transporting food a few times a week, it is inevitable that some reusable bags will have spillages, leaks or damaged packaging on the journey from cash register to pantry.

You might not care if your reusable bags look dirty, but it’s the invisible bacteria that you want to prevent to keep your next load of groceries fresh. Cross contamination can lead to food poisoning, which can vary from uncomfortable to dangerous for those with a suppressed immune system, women who are pregnant, children or the elderly.

Research from a 2011 study by the Loma Linda University School of Public Heath in the USA tested real bags used by shoppers for bacteria and found some e-coli present in 8 per cent of bags they tested. The number of times these bags had been used and for what purpose varied, but the researchers determined that half the bags were used more than one day per week, and that just 3 per cent of people regularly cleaned their bags. Through testing, they found that washing bags reduced bacteria by 99.9 per cent.

Canvas and cotton bags can be washed in the washing machine with a normal load, while string and mesh bags can simply be rinsed and hung to dry. Polypropylene and nylon bags can be hand washed in warm soapy water and line dried or aired out. Wipe down chiller bags with a disinfectant spray or detergent sponge after each use. Turn all bags inside out to wash and check in the seams and corners of bags where stuff can accumulate.

Here are some other healthy bag habits that will reduce contamination in your reusable shopping bags.

  1. Separate the meat

    Keep raw meat, including poultry, fish and seafood away from other foods, especially those eaten raw, like fruit and vegetables. Get a few reusable bags, in different colours and colour code them for use – green for fruits and veg and red for meats.

    Any cleaners or detergents should also be separated from food when packing grocery bags.
  2. Heavy stuff at the bottom

    Pack heavy or large items first and put the lighter stuff on top to avid squashed packaging and leaking food. Some reusable bags are larger than old style lightweight plastic shopping bags, so don’t be tempted to overfill them and damage the food inside and make them too heavy to carry.
  3. Keep dedicated reusable grocery bags

    You don’t keep your gym clothes or muddy gumboots with your food in your fridge, so don’t mix them in your reusable bags.
  4. Let your bags dry out properly

    Bags can get damp or wet, in the rain or from condensation on the exterior packaging of chilled foods. While we recommend stashing bags soon after unpacking groceries so that they are ready for the next shop, just do a quick check for any dampness and leave that bag to dry out so that it doesn’t turn mouldy.
  5. Let it go

    If a bag is looking too manky, maybe it’s time to repurpose it for trips to the hardware shop only, and grab a fresh one for your food shopping.