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Blog: A Need to Disinfect Reusable Bags

Canada does it. So should Long Beach. Both ban the use of plastic bags but only Canada has a public education program on the need to clean reusable bags between uses.

I am asking the Health Department to inform grocers and their customers about the need to clean reusable bags that may be the source of bacteria. An agenda item asking for the report will be heard in early March.

The City enacted an ordinance banning plastic bags at stores as a way of encouraging the use of reusable bags. Recent studies indicate that the reusable bags may be the source of E.Coli and other bacteria which cause serious illness and infection, if the bags are not washed and disinfected between uses. Additionally, after carrying meat, poultry and other items, customers apparently are often returning their bags to the trunks of their cars where increased temperatures can speed the growth of bacteria from these fluids. Some customers use their bags to also carry clothing and shoes which adds to the transmission of bacteria.

I am Registered Nurse Practitioner by training and I feel that as with any public health matter, it is critical that we inform, educate and empower residents about health issues in our community. It is important that our Public Health Department provide information through the stores about the need for proper cleaning and disinfecting of reusable bags in between uses.

The Loma Linda University School of Public Health (after finding 12% of the reusable bags they sampled at grocery stores positive for Escherichia coli) recommended that the “public needs to be educated about the proper care of reusable bags by printed instructions on the bags or through public service announcements.” (An example of a brief public information video can be accessed at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q0rFn9mzPJg

Although I  opposed the banning of plastic bags and would have preferred an aggressive recycling program, I believe that if the City wants to continue to make this environment effort successful, it is important that, through our own Public Health Department, we add this educational component to keep our residents safe.

This is not a scare tactic but good common sense.

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S.A.P. February 27, 2013 at 09:51 PM
I have used reusable bags for years without any problems. I take a box, like one that beer or tangerines come in, with a solid bottom & sides, cut it down and use it to line my bags. It protects the bag & prevents a box from going into a landfill. It also is easy to see if anything has spilled and if it has, it is no big deal to throw the box/liner away and make another one. It also gives the bag a stable bottom that many reusable bags don't have.
Gesa Cowell February 27, 2013 at 10:34 PM
This is a good point but isn't it just common sense? If something spills in the bag, it needs to be washed. I'm amazed we need public education on that.
John B. Greet February 28, 2013 at 06:19 PM
Thanks, Gerrie. It's important that people understand this very real health risk and take steps to mitigate it. Just as it was important for folks in Long Beach to understand that the plastic bag ban was enacted under the pretense of mitigating litter, when there is no proof that it has done anything of the sort. Nor was there any evidence that the Council had the legal authority to: *require* that grocers charge a fee for paper bags and then *restrict* how those stores could dispose of those fees once collected. I recently moved to Boise, Idaho. *Every* store here still provides plastic bags. There is no noticeable litter problem from these bags because the folks up here don't generally litter. As with any other location, the challenge in Long Beach was never the plastic bags, it was the people who misuse them to cause litter. Long Beach's plastic bag ban did nothing to address the public offense of littering.
Douglas Lober March 06, 2013 at 06:27 PM
The funniest thing is that many of these so called "e-coli" tests that were done were done by colleges who were actually hired by the "Plastic Bag" manufacturers themselves. Of course they want to spread any scary negative stuff they can to keep people using their beloved single use plastic bags. I personally am working on 8 years with my bags and to be honest i rarely if ever even wash them. You just cant go believing everything you read. Thanks for the good write up. http://www.reusethisbag.com

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