Reusable Grocery Bags Are Great for the Environment but Can Make You Sick if Contaminated
Some bags allow meat juices to leak through, while others soak up moisture and become bacteria breeding grounds
If you're like many grocery shoppers, you use reusable grocery bags to lessen your impact on the environment. Taking advantage of these heavy duty bags makes it easier to move your groceries from cart to car and then into your home. But there's a hidden danger many people don't know about when it comes to these bags. Depending upon what you carry in them, you might be putting your health at risk.
Construction of the bags matters
Not all reusable bags are created equally. Depending upon the quality and construction of the bag, you can have a variety of different materials and porosities. You may be asking yourself why the construction of the bag matters to food safety. Well, it all comes down to how well the materials allow fluids to penetrate. When you're shopping for ground beef, you're probably well-aware that juices leak from the package. If you place foods with leaking juices into your reusable bags, they can absorb some of the juices and become a breeding ground for bacteria. At a later date when you use the same bag to bring home raw fruits and vegetables, you can be cross-contaminating your foods.
Bags that are not made of a canvas material are easier to clean and are often a better choice for meats. Bags that are insulated for cooled and frozen foods often have a smooth interior and are easily cleaned with bleach after use.
Reusable bags should be cleaned regularly
Regardless of the type of reusable bag you take on your shopping trip, cleaning the bags regularly is very important. It really shouldn't matter whether your bags carried meat or if they only carried pre-packaged foods. Bags can get mixed up if they all look alike, so get in the habit of cleaning them. Most bags can be tossed into the washing machine on a sanitary cycle or with a small amount of bleach. A simple mild solution of bleach and water can be enough to kill most bacteria and leave the bags smelling clean and fresh.
Have dedicated bags for foods that can leak
When people buy reusable shopping bags, they typically get a bunch all at once. This means that they are all the same size and look exactly the same. Having identical bags can make it difficult to know which ones you used for meats and which you used for fresh produce. If your bags all look the same, tie a ribbon to the handle of bags that you want to dedicate to foods that can leak and contaminate other foods so you can give them extra cleaning attention.
Alternatively, purchase insulated bags that you can dedicate solely to meat products that can leak juices. Not only will your foods stay cooler on the way home, you'll be able to easily recognize them and keep them clean.