There are a number of things that have puzzled me as I continue to live my life. For example, I never understood the Tamagotchi craze. Yet I had, still have actually, friends who adored that little gateway into hell. I never bought into the whole bacterial hand soap thing either. My reason was simple; when I went to the hospital I didn’t see any doctors using it. One reminded me of something I learned in high school; the bacteria on your hands is generally there to protect you from illness. Ripping it off makes you vulnerable. Now the new craze is to save the planet. Well, okay, that’s been around a bit, but now they have handy things that anyone can do. And one of those things is to use reusable bags for all your grocery shopping.
Or, as I like to call them, Satan’s playground for things that can kill you.
Tammi Dennis, the L.A. Times Health Editor, summed it all up nicely.
Way to go, all you planet-saving shoppers who’ve made the switch to reusable bags! But consider:
“Reusable” doesn’t mean “self-cleaning.”
Researchers at the University of Arizona and Loma Linda University queried shoppers headed into grocery stores in California and Arizona, asking them if they wash those reusable bags.
The researchers were likely met with a lot of blank looks. Most shoppers — 97%, in fact — reported that they do not regularly, if ever, wash the bags.
Further, three-fourths acknowledged that they don’t use separate bags for meats and for vegetables, and about a third said they used the bags for, well, all sorts of things (storing snacks, toting books). You can see where this is going.
The researchers tested 84 of the bags for bacteria. They found whopping amounts in all but one bag, and coliform bacteria (suggesting raw-meat or uncooked-food contamination) in half. And yes, the much-feared E. coli was among them — in 12% of the bags.
Here’s the full report, (yes it’s a long title) Assessment of the Potential for Cross Contamination of Food Products by Reusable Shopping Bags.
For more on food-borne illness check out the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The researchers wrote in their discussion of the findings:
“It is estimated that there are about 76,000,000 cases of foodborne illness in the United States every year. Most of these illnesses originate in the home from improper cooking or handling of foods. Reusable bags, if not properly washed between uses, create the potential for cross-contamination of foods.
This potential exists when raw meat products and foods traditionally eaten uncooked (fruits and vegetables) are carried in the same bags, either together or between uses. This risk can be increased by the growth of bacteria in the bags.”
The study, funded by the American Chemistry Council, is being offered up as context in discussions about a California bill, AB 1998, that would ban single-use plastic bags, which — it must be acknowledged — do tend to have little potential for bacterial contamination.
But the researchers also assessed the effectiveness of washing the bags. Way to go, researchers! Good news on that front: Machine washing or hand washing reduced bacteria levels to almost nothing.
Just a quick side note before we continue, e-coli can kill you.
There are now several companies that, clearly upset that we aren’t spreading disease at a greater rate, have invented reusable pizza boxes. One of them is metal and holds a 12 inch pie. That would be the least popular size in America. The 14 inch is the most popular.
Hey! Research is for wimps.
There are also reusable boxes for fast food. Think chicken and Chinese, not Mickey D’s. But they are each a movable feast of potential death.
The other part of the equation is that these things are a pain to use. And, you have to let restaurant owners know in advance that you’re bringing your plague inducing products into their establishment. None that I’m aware of will repack stuff once it’s ready to go.
So, if you want to save the earth AND leave some people on it, use the recyclable stuff and you’ll do fine.
And, when the paper pulp is no longer able to be used in bags and boxes, Taco Bell (and 14 other companies) will use it as an additive for your food. Now that’s recycling.