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Could Those Reusable Grocery Bags Make You Sick?

Posted by Joan Salge Blake  May 10, 2012 09:28 AM

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Michael, a 58-year old business owner and lover of good food is also equally concerned about the environment.  He routinely lugs an armful of cloth grocery bags from his automobile trunk into the supermarket to cart home his groceries each time he goes food shopping.  When it comes to plastic shopping bags,  Michael's mantra is "less is best.”

To avoid plastic, Michael doesn’t even put his fresh apples, pears, and red peppers in those nifty produce bags on the roll in the produce aisle.  As a purist, he bags them alfresco in the cloth bags along with the packaged raw meat and poultry.  When asked about the last time he cleaned those cloth bags, without even blinking, Michael said “never.”

Sound familiar?  Michael is actually among the majority of Americans when it comes to reusable cloth bag hygiene.  Unfortunately, only 15 percent of Americans wash their reusable tote bags on a regular basis, according to a survey conducted by the Home Food Safety program, a collaboration between the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) and ConAgra Foods.

Michael's shopping bag habits may prompt you to reconsider your grocery tote bag sorting and cleanliness.  The raw meat and poultry drippings in Michael's tote bag could easily cross contaminate the fresh produce in the same bag.  With 48 million Americans affected annually by food poisoning caused by salmonella, listeria, and E. coli, Michael's food shopping habits not only illustrates the potential cross contamination of bacteria-containing meats and poultry with fresh produce but also the potential of infecting the bag for future outings.

According to Ruth Frechman, a registered dietitian and media spokesperson for AND, "Food poisoning can easily be prevented by using practical steps, such as cleaning grocery totes and separating raw meats from ready-to-eat foods when shopping, cooking, serving, and storing foods."

Separating tote bags (one for raw meats, fish, and poultry and another for fresh produce) as well as washing the bags after each outing seems like an easy way to prevent a potential risk of contracting foodborne illness. 

Unfortunately, like Michael and most of us, when was the last time you washed your reusable grocery bags?  Honestly share below.....

Follow Joan on Twitter @joansalgeblake
Originally published on the blog Nutrition and You!.
This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Joan Salge Blake, MS, RD, LDN, is a clinical associate professor and registered dietitian at Boston University in the Nutrition Program. Joan is the author of Nutrition &You, 2nd Edition, More »

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