Well Being

Reusable Shopping Bags Linked To Outbreak; Here’s How To Clean Them

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A while back, I wrote an article about how reusable shopping bags are often covered in bacteria, because they come in contact with meat, veggies, and other potentially contaminated items. I got some emails from readers who accused me of being a fear-monger and overly-cautious, because come on! No one gets sick from innocent, adorable, eco-friendly totes! Except they totally do, says a report published today. Time to take a lesson and learn how to clean reusable shopping bags.

The report, which was published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases, traces just one case of norovirus, which struck a soccer team in Oregon in 2010. The unpleasant stomach bug was linked to a reusable plastic shopping bag (you know, the kind you get at the Trader Joe’s check-out line for a dollar or two because you forgot your usual ones in the car) that was stored in a bathroom where someone else had been sick with a “norovirus-like illness.”

Then, when the team members reached in to the bag, touched the bag, and touched the packaged food within the bag, the virus was transmitted to them. Which. Is. Gross. And could have been avoided if a.) the bathroom had been properly cleaned after the previous person was sick, b.) the team members had washed their hands after unwrapping their food, but before eating, or c.) if the bag had been sanitized before the kids had grabbed food from it. But the trouble is that most people just assume that grocery bags are safe and clean–unlike toilets or even grocery carts, which most people know are dirty. Which is why it’s a good idea to regularly give your bags a bath, and then keep them sanitary:

  • Wash them, just like dish-towels. Think of your grocery totes just like you’d think about dish towels in the kitchen, and toss them in the laundry as often.
  • Booze works. You can also soak them in vodka.
  • Disinfect the plastic ones. Bleach. Bleach, bleach, bleach. Or, if you’re looking for an eco-friendly solution for plastic reusable bags, use a spray bottle filled with a strong solution of vinegar and a little water. Spray the whole bag, inside and out, and let it dry. Then, wipe it away with a clean cloth.
  • Dry them out. Stuffing recently-used (and frequently damp) bags back into the boot of your car, or into a drawer somewhere is just asking for bacteria. Instead, let them line-dry somewhere up and away from other stuff in your house.
  • In a pinch, grab a Lysol wipe. Say you get to the grocery store and you realize you didn’t clean your bags before you came. It’s not too late! Grab one of those Lysol or other disinfecting wipes that they have for carts and give your bag a wipe. It’s not a perfect solution, and you should still wash your hands before you touch your mouth or fact, but it’ll help cut down on any bacteria you may have come in with.

Image: FrameAngel via Shutterstock