|

Can reusable grocery bags make you sick, or is that just baloney?

Consumer Reports News: July 22, 2010 01:32 PM


An old saw in the news business is “consider the source” – in other words, take into account not just what you’re hearing, but where it comes from. Which is why we’re not so swayed by a recent report
about reusable grocery bags and their potential to make you sick.

The report came out of the University of Arizona, Tucson and Loma Linda University in California. Smack on page one is this note: “The authors would like to acknowledge and thank the American Chemistry Council for providing funding to support this study.”

The American Chemistry Council is the trade group that advocates on behalf of plastic-bag manufacturers. Now why would the folks who make plastic grocery bags want to cast doubts on the safety of reusable grocery bags? Oh, right.

And it worked, sort of. The way it played in the media was that reusable grocery bags may be good for the environment, but you’re taking your health in your hands every time you, you know, reuse one, because the bags can harbor e coli and other bacteria.

That soundbite was based on the report’s analysis of 84 reusable grocery bags collected in California and Arizona. Yup, just 84. We have a colleague who grew up with 10 sisters and brothers. A single weekly shopping trip for his family could easily net 20 bags of groceries, so 84 doesn’t really seem like an adequate sample size for a scientific study.


The researchers tested for pathogenic bacteria Salmonella and Listeria, but didn’t find any, nor did they find strains of E. coli that could make one sick. They only found bacteria that don’t normally cause disease, but do cause disease in people with weakened immune systems.

Our food-safety experts were underwhelmed as well. “A person eating an average bag of salad greens gets more exposure to these bacteria than if they had licked the insides of the dirtiest bag from this study,” says Michael Hansen, senior staff scientist at Consumers Union. “These bacteria can be found lots of places, so no need to go overboard.”

But Hansen notes that there are some reminders to take away from the study. It’s easy to spread bacteria from meat, fish, or poultry to other foods – in your kitchen or in your grocery bags. So we do think it’s wise to carry those items in disposable bags. Reusable bags are fine for most everything else, but it’s a good idea to wash them occasionally.


   

E-mail Newsletters

FREE e-mail Newsletters! Choose from cars, safety, health, and more!
Already signed-up?
Manage your newsletters here too.

Latest From Consumer Reports

GAS GRILL REVIEWS
Spring fever: Check out these all-stars from our tests Grills, mattresses, mowers, and refrigerators that we love.
HEALTH NEWS
An apple a day keeps the prescription drugs away But apple eaters still see their doctor as often as other people do.
RETIREMENT PLANNING GUIDE
It's not smart to turn your 401(k) into an ATM It might be tempting, but in most cases we advise against this borrowing.
NEW CAR REVIEWS
Should you buy an extended warranty for your car?Video In our survey, most who bought one didn’t use it for repairs.
LAPTOP REVIEWS
Tech talk: Why you should wait to buy a new laptop Intel's new chip just came out, but an even better update is coming soon.
MATTRESS REVIEWS
Big-box bonanza: 12 ways to save even more at Costco Our savvy team shows you how to spot the bargains at the warehouse club.

Connect

and safety with
subscribers and fans

Follow us on:

Cars

Cars New Car Price Report
Find out what the dealers don't want you to know! Get dealer pricing information on a new car with the New Car Price Report.

Order Your Report

Mobile

Mobile Get Ratings on the go and compare
while you shop

Learn more