A recently released microbiological study of reusable shopping bags, the first study of its kind in North America, warns of the risks that unclean reusable bags can have on human health.
The study was commissioned and funded by the Environment and Plastics Industry Council (EPIC), a Canadian industry group which promotes responsible use and recovery of plastic resources. EPIC is a committee of the Canadian Plastics Industry Association.
The 15-page study releases the findings of two independent testing laboratories, showing that unclean reusable bags can pose a public health risk due to high levels of mold, bacteria and yeast present in the samples. Some of the findings include:
- Sixty four percent of the tested reusable bags were contaminated with some level of bacteria and nearly 30 percent had bacterial counts higher than what is considered safe for drinking water.
- Forty percent of the bags contained the presence of yeast or mold.
- Some of the sampled bags contained unsafe levels of coliforms and fecal intestinal bacteria.
Possible sources of contamination may include improperly wrapped meats, spilled liquids or perishable food items and using the bag for non-food-related purposes, such as trips to the gym or as a diaper bag.
Though results of the study may cause alarm, proper care of the bags and responsible use will likely eliminate the studies concerns. As is with anything reusable and washable, the bags should be washed and cared for between uses to decrease the likelihood of bacterial contamination.
Dr. Richard Summerbell, research director at Toronto-based Sporometrics, an environmental microbiology laboratory that evaluated the study results, recommends you treat the reusable bags like a kitchen cutting board, which is also exposed to food and can become a source of harmful micro-organisms.
The study has been sent to the Canadian Sub-Committe on Food Safety for review.