Reusable Grocery Bags: A Bacteria Breeding Ground

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In recent years, more and more shoppers have been taking their own shopping bags to the grocery store.

It's particularly popular among environmentally-conscious shoppers who want to cut down on the number of plastic bags drifting around the globe.

However, there is a hidden danger to the planet-friendly bags. It's the germs that can accumulate in the bottom of the bags.

First introduced in the 1970s, the little plastic shopping bag is one of the most popular items ever invented. Every minute of every day, one million plastic bags are used worldwide.

Environmentalists are concerned about these bags littering the land and waterways and say even when they do end up in the landfill, they take too long to break-down, and release toxins into the soil.

That's why cities in many countries have either outlawed plastic bags or heavily taxed them. It's an idea that's rapidly catching-on in cities across America. Consumers are switching to reusable plastic bags or cloth bags. Unfortunately, reusable bags are often a breeding ground for bacteria from uncooked meat or other raw foods that unsuspecting customers tote around in their bags.

For example, researchers tested 84 bags and found half of them contained coliform bacteria and 12 percent had e-coli, which is often the source of food poisoning, and can easily spread.

"It would be a level of concern getting on the rest of your produce or anything else that you might handle after the fact," said Dr. Michelle Barron, Medical Director of Infection Control at the University of Colorado Hospital. And certainly on your hands, too...digging in there.. touch your nose.. rub your eyes.. all that good stuff."

The study was conducted by the American Chemistry Council, which warns bacteria can live for many hours, sometimes days, in reusable bags.

"They like porous surfaces so the plastic is probably going to get more contaminated or bacteria will adhere to it better than cloth," Barron said. "But it can still live on both surfaces just fine."

The simple fix to the problem is to clean the bag often. Toss the cloth bags in the washing machine and wipe down the plastic ones with a cleanser after each use. That way you can feel good about protecting yourself as well as the environment.

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Lorie  Johnson

Lorie Johnson

CBN News Medical Reporter

Lorie Johnson reports on the latest information about health and wellness. Since medicine is constantly changing, she makes sure CBN News viewers are up-to-date on what they need to know in order to live a healthy life.  Follow Lorie on Twitter @LorieCBN and "like" her at Facebook.com/LorieJohnsonCBN.