You know that bringing your own reusable bags to the grocery store is a smart thing to do. It’s environmentally more friendly than using plastic bags, and some stores will even give you a refund for bringing your own bag. And for the stylishly conscious, some of the reusable bags these days come in some pretty fun and attractive designs and colors.
So, what’s the bad news?
If not used properly, reusable bags carry the risk of making you sick by transmitting harmful bacteria like E. coli and salmonella, as well as other sickness-promoting germs and chemicals.
You really don’t know where your food was before you put it in your cart. You don’t know what the packaging picked up while being handled. You don’t know what was in the cart or conveyor belt at checkout. You don’t know if broken eggs were present or leaking packages of meat were in contact with any items you purchased. There is no telling what invisible bacteria or chemicals anything came in contact with before you came on the scene — liquid from a cracked egg or juices from an opened package of meat; pesticides from fruits and vegetables; chemicals from opened cleaning products; dirt, germs, and other chemicals on boxes and packages. If you put your receipts in the bag, well, chances are pretty high that those receipts are covered in BPA resin.
When these items are put in your reusable bags, all that stuff remains as residue in your bags. Those bags then go in the shopping cart, trunk of the car, on the sidewalk while waiting for the bus, etc… And now, invisible germs are living on the inside and outside of your bags.
Once emptied, many store these bags in their purses, closets, or trunks of their cars where the germs, bacteria, and chemicals continue to survive and spread to other personal items. Not good.
Now, I’m not a total germaphobe. Really, I’m not. I’m a teacher and work with kids. I think that a certain level of germ exposure is important and necessary for our immune systems, and I am against anti-bacterial soaps which contain harmful and unnecessary chemicals, like triclosan. But when it comes to anything that can pose serious threats to one’s health, I’m cautious.
The good news…
The good news, is that none of this should stop you from staying green while you shop. There is NO need to stop using your green bags.
Here are a few tips to help keep you and your family safe and healthy while staying green:
- Wash your grocery bags often. My favorite bags are the nylon ones that can go right into the machine and can be hung to dry. (Find them here.) Sometimes, I will use an insulated bag/cooler if I know that I will be picking up perishable items and not getting home until a few hours later. For those, I use a damp cloth with a dab of apple cider vinegar to wipe the lining.
- Always put egg, meat, poultry, and fish purchases in a separate bag before putting them in your bag with other items. Even if you wash your reusable bag, if you put a package of chicken in a bag with produce and the package of chicken gets accidentally punctured (even unnoticeably), the liquid could contaminate other items.
- Never use your grocery bag for other purposes (carrying clothes, kids’ toys, etc…) without washing it first.
- When emptying grocery bags, do not place them on your countertops unless you are going to sanitize them afterwards.