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Reusable shopping bags may present health risk

The researchers tested 84 bags collected from shoppers in Tucson, Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area and found that just over half were contaminated with potentially harmful bacteria. Twelve percent of the bags contained E. coli, which indicates possible fecal matter and more dangerous pathogens.

“Well, it’s sort of a random chance,” he said. “Sometimes, there may be enough. Sometimes, there may be not. You’re really always gambling with germs.”

The contamination happens when food, such as raw meat, le white converse aks onto the fabric. If the bag isn’t washed, the bacteria can contaminate other food you put into the bag on the next trip to the store.

Gerba recommends washing reusable bags after you use them to tote raw meat.

Although meat is usually wrapped, it may be tainted on the outside from leaked juice. Also, he said, avoid storing the bags in the car trunk, which is a hot breeding ground for germs in the summer.

The study, done in conjunction with Loma Linda University in California, raises the question of what is more environmentally friendly: using cloth bags that must be washed regularly with water and detergent, or using thin plastic or paper bags that often end up in the streets or landfills instead of recycling? Gerba said his team didn’t white converse address that issue but only examined contamination risks.

Not everyone agrees with the study’s findings. An environmental advocacy group objects to its validity because it was funded by the American Chemistry Council, which represents plastics manufacturers.

“This is in white converse dustry funded junk science designed to scare consumers,” said Allen Hershkowitz, a senior scientist with the National Resources Defense Council.

He said it’s irresponsible to claim that reusable bags present a serious threat to public health because bacteria are everywhere. He said he has used reusable grocery bags for years, and he doesn’t wash them after each use.

Many reusable grocery bags, however, are woven out of a plastic resin made by the chemical industry. Others are made out of cloth. Common, thin plastic bags are made out of a different plastic resin.

Gerba, who received about $30,000 from the American Chemistry Council for the study, said it was the type of bacteria found in the bags, fecal coliform bacteria, and the potential for cross contamination that caused a concern. He’s not advocating that people stop using reusable bags.

“You just have to maintain t white converse hem and recognize the potential for cross contamination,” he said.

The findings come at a time when the California Legislature is considering a bill that would ban plastic bags because they are non degradable and contribute to waste.

The measure has run into steep resistance from chambers of commerce and manufacturing groups but is popular with environmentalists.

The UA study recommends that states consider public awareness campaigns that alert consumers to the risks of reusable bags and remind them to wash the bags.