News: Beware of bugs in your bag

Published in the July 2 2010 issue of The Edmonton Sun. News

Beware of bugs in your bag

You may be helping the environment but you could also be putting your health at risk.

Results from a recent joint-study done by two U.S. universities showed using reusable bags could pose “a serious threat to public health.”

These findings come just one month after Alberta pledged to increase the use and presence of reusable bags in the province.

The study by the University of Arizona and Loma Linda University in California reports large quantities of bacteria were found in 84 sampled bags from Los Angeles, San Francisco and Tuscon, Ariz.

Researchers also found that 97% of shoppers interviewed have never washed their reusable bags.

“Apparently no one ever washes these bags,” said Dr. Charles Gerba, co-author of the study.

“Our findings suggest a serious threat to public health, especially from coliform bacteria including E. coli.”

The report recommends governments look into creating a public education campaign for cleaning reusable bags, as well as printing cleaning reminders on the bags themselves.

But Allen Langdon, with the Canadian Council of Grocery Distributors, said an education campaign and printing reminders is not necessary.

“We haven’t seen anything to date that would raise a serious alarm,” Langdon said.

“I think a lot of it is common sense.

“Tips are pretty clear and pretty simple: if you’re going to use bags you should be washing them on a regular basis.”

Shopper Kim Tew, who had filled five reusable bags with groceries after her trip to the Safeway at Capilano Mall, said she’s not surprised with the study’s results.

“We’re lazy people,” Tew said.

“I wash my bags, but I don’t wash them as much as I could or should.”

While Health Canada recently released on its web-site a list of tips and reminders to maintain reusable bags, Gerba and his team said if no widespread action is taken to prevent bag contamination, the issue could become more serious in the future.

“The situation will probably get worse if you don’t educate the people.”

Health Canada reports approximately 11 million cases of food-related illnesses in Canada each year.

A voluntary plastic bag reduction campaign launched in Alberta in June, which aims to reduce the use of up to 450 million plastic bags by 2013 by ramping up promotion of reusable bags.

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