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Reusable grocery bags may not be much improvement
We've all seen them, those ubiquitous plastic grocery bags cluttering up the the pantry, snagged on the bushes along the roadside.
Most of us find them useful for lining small trash cans or collecting trash or other random items, and to be fair, sources like Walmart promote recycling through collection sites in the entryway.
But that isn't good for some people in California, who want to ban the use of plastic bags altogether, forcing shoppers t0 "go green" with reusable grocery bags.
There's nothing wrong with reusing grocery bags, in fact, it's an idea that appeals to anyone with midwestern conservative values.
But besides being heavy-handed and authoritarian, forcing us to give up throw-away shopping bags can have health consequences, according to a joint food safety research report issued by the University of Arizona and Loma Linda University.
Researchers randomly tested reusable grocery bags carried by shoppers in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Tucson, and found consumers almost completely unaware of the need to regularly wash the bags.
"Our findings suggest a serious threat to public health, especially from coliform bacteria including E. coli, which were detected in half the bags sampled," said Charles Gerba, PhD, a University of Arizona environmental microbiology professor and co-author of the study. "Furthermore, consumers are alarmingly unaware of these risks and the critical need to sanitize their bags after every use."
Gerba, also known as "Dr. Germ," said bacteria levels found in reusable bags were significant enough to cause a wide range of serious health problems, even death. This was especially true for young children, who are especially vulnerable to foodborne illnesses.
The researchers said the danger is especially high in Los Angeles, where the weather is more conducive to bacteria growth.
If California is going to force consumers to go this direction, one of the researchers said, a major public education campaign needs to be conducted first.
Among the tips consumers should follow when using reusable bage:
* Separate raw foods from other food products
* Not use them for carrying school books or gym clothes
* Not store them in the trunks of cars because the higher temperature promotes bacteria growth.
Paper bags are a completely separate issue; are they really biodegradable when trapped in a landfill, and how much of an impact do they have on the environment?
Some grocery stores are selling reusable bags that contain antimicrobial products, but for most of us, washing the sacks is the best option for now.
One has to wonder, if grocery bags become part of the household laundry, how much are we actually reducing our carbon footprint.