reusable shopping bags

Are Reusable Shopping Bags a Health Hazard?

reusable shopping bags

I love reusable shopping bags (even if I do have a tendency to sometimes forget them). I use them for all kinds of things — organizing stuff in my closets, carrying heavy books to and from the library, and of course shopping. But it turns out I might be carrying around little sacs of sickness.

Apparently reusable shopping bags are a potential health hazard. Then again, what isn’t these days? Really. Before you get worked up into a tizzy though, relax. You can curb the health risks fairly easily and still enjoy your favorite green grocery totes and other reusable shopping bags.

Let’s look at what the potential health hazard is, and what you can do to prevent problems.

How Reusable Shopping Bags Might Spread Sickness

raw meat

It’s a simple concern, and one most of us probably should have thought of on our own — carrying products like raw meat (which can leak juice into your bag) alongside things like produce might lead to contamination with various microbes. Fun stuff, right?

You might become ill when you then eat that produce (uncooked we’ll say), especially if you haven’t washed it properly first. Of course if you read the article linked above, you’ll find that the chance of these bacteria leading to illness actually seems rather small.

How to Stay Happy, Healthy, and Green with Reusable Shopping Bags

So what’s the solution to this possible issue of contamination so you can keep enjoying green shopping habits? Wash your reusable shopping bags! Duh. The study showed that 97 percent of the people interviewed never do this. And I’ll admit it usually skips my mind too. Here are some more specific tips to make sure your reusable shopping bags don’t pose any unnecessary (no matter how small) health risks:

  1. shopping bag

    Wash canvas or other cloth reusable shopping bags in hot soapy water — in a load of laundry for example.

  2. Wash plastic reusable shopping bags with hot soapy water by hand, or wipe them down with disinfectant wipes or your favorite disinfectant spray cleaner (you know — the stuff you use to clean your countertops).
  3. Put meat products at the bottom of your shopping bag when packing groceries so they don’t risk dripping juice on other food. Use some kind of plastic divider between your meat and other food if it makes you feel better too.
  4. Better yet, carry more than one reusable shopping bag with you — one for meat or a specific one for produce to keep it separate.

Are you concerned at all about reusable shopping bags spreading germs? Do you regularly wash yours, or are you like most of us who apparently don’t bother? Will you start? If you have stories or tips to share, feel free to leave a comment.

Written by
Jennifer Mattern
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1 comment
  • Hi,
    Reusable bags are not at all environmentally friendly. To prevent problems with contamination due to bacteria, yeast, mold you have to wash your bags on a regular basis. For people whose immune systems are compromised, perhaps in between uses, or for most people just monthly. But washing your bags to maintain them in a sanitary condition requires the use of water, soap, bleach, and electricity/natural gas. Not to mention your time and effort and the resulting discharge into the sewer. These are not one time costs but recurring costs and impacts to the environment, month after month, year after year. And all the while a sanitary alternative, the plastic or paper bag are off-the-shelf.

    The real problem is a litter problem. You can’t solve that by banning a plastic bag and using a reusable bag.