While many consumers have embraced reusable grocery bags, these eco-friendly options can serve as a breeding ground for dangerous food-borne bacteria and pose a serious risk to public health, according to a joint food safety research report by researchers at the University of Arizona (Tucson) and Loma Linda University in Loma Linda, CA.
The research study—which randomly tested reusable grocery bags carried by shoppers in the Los Angeles area, San Francisco and Tucson, A—also found consumers were almost completely unaware of the need to regularly wash their 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, Ph.D., 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.”
The bacteria levels found in reusable bags were significant enough to cause a wide range of serious health problems and can even lead to death—a particular danger for young children, who are especially vulnerable to food-borne illnesses, he said.
The study also found that awareness of potential risks was very low. According to the study, 97% percent of those interviewed have never washed or bleached their reusable bags.