Reusable Grocery Bags: Keep ‘Em Clean while Going Green

Posted: August 8, 2016

Bringing groceries home in a reusable grocery bag is a simple way to go green and help the environment. But it may put you and your family at risk for foodborne illness.

Research was done in California and Arizona to look at common habits of food shoppers that use these eco-friendly grocery bags. It showed that most shoppers are putting their families at risk because of the threat of cross contamination.

Cross contamination is the transfer of harmful bacteria to a food from other foods, cutting boards, hands, utensils, surfaces and even from the shopping bag used to carry the food home.

Results showed that most of the bags had large numbers of bacteria including E. coli growing in them. Yuck! But, before you throw your collection of reusable grocery bags out the window, there is good news. Cleaning these bags is the easy way to keep them safe.

If you use reusable grocery bags, here are some simple steps that you can follow to reduce cross-contamination and keep yourself and your family safe from germs.

Wash reusable grocery bags often.

  • Cloth reusable bags should be washed in a washing machine using laundry detergent and dried in the dryer or air-dried.
  • Plastic-lined reusable bags should be scrubbed using hot water and soap and air-dried.
  • Check that both cloth and plastic-lined reusable bags are completely dry before storing them.

Always put raw meats into a disposable plastic bag before putting them in a reusable bag.

  • A disposable plastic bag helps contain any juices that drip off of raw meat packages, which can touch other foods and contaminate them. Disposable plastic bags are usually available in the raw meat or produce areas of your store.
  • Throw away disposable plastic bags used for raw meat immediately after use. Never reuse bags that contained raw meat or poultry.

Keep meats, fresh produce and ready-to-eat foods separated.

  • Use separate bags dedicated for meats, fresh fruits and vegetables, and ready-to-eat foods. It’s also a good idea to keep these foods separated in your shopping cart, at the checkout line on the conveyor belt and at home. This will help reduce cross-contamination.
  • Remember that cold food needs to be refrigerated within two hours of leaving the store or market. Cold food should be refrigerated within one hour when temperatures outside are above 90˚F.

Store reusable bags at home in a cool, dry place, not in the car.

  • Store reusable bags in a cool, dry place, such as in your home or in the garage. Higher temperatures, like those inside of a car or a car’s trunk, can cause germs like Salmonella bacteria to grow faster.

Do not use reusable grocery bags for other purposes.

  • Bags used for groceries should be used only for food. Don’t carry items such as baby bottles, toys, gym clothes and other items in the same reusable bags that you take to the grocery store.

These simple steps will help you to reduce cross-contamination, and help keep you and your family safe from harmful bacteria.

Sources: Laura Gieraltowski, PhD, MPH, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC);

Contact Information

Richard Kralj, M Ed., RDN, LDN
  • Food Safety and Nutrition Educator
Phone: 814-849-7361 x1