Shine On

Earth Day 2012: Wash those reusable grocery bags — or risk food poisoning

A recent survey has found that only 15 per cent of Americans regularly wash their reusable grocery bags. (Credit: Getty Images)You're probably toting reusable grocery bags to the store each week. But if you're not washing them regularly, your Earth Day-friendly choice might be putting your health at risk.

A new survey by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and ConAgra Foods has found that only 15 per cent of Americans regularly wash their reusable grocery bags, creating a dangerous breeding ground for potentially harmful bacteria.

"Cross-contamination occurs when juices from raw meats or germs from unclean objects come in contact with cooked or ready-to-eat foods like breads or produce," says Ruth Frechman, registered dietitian and Academy spokesperson. "Unwashed grocery bags are lingering with bacteria which can easily contaminate your foods."

Related: Bisphenol A found in common cleaning products

Frechman adds that food poisoning can easily be avoided.  Wash your bags in the washing machine or by hand using hot soapy water, and wrap raw meats in plastic bags to separate them from ready-to-eat foods. Be sure to store totes in a clean, dry location — and avoid leaving them in the trunk of a vehicle.

Health Canada provides guidelines for washing your reusable bags and plastic bins and emphasizes that if bags are used for non-grocery purposes, they should be washed and dried thoroughly before food items are placed in them again.

Watch Health Canada's video on reusable-grocery-bag safety below:

Last summer, Health Canada warned Canadians that there are approximately 11-million food-related illnesses reported a year in this country, many of them preventable.

Do you wash your reusable bags?

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