Reusable shopping bags are a great way to be eco-friendly and stop yourself from using plastic bags. I not only use them at the grocery but also when I’m out clothes shopping, sometimes when I need a gym bag in a pinch, or even to run errands. I was recently told how dangerous it was to use the reusable bags without a washing in-between. When I thought about it I realized I don’t think I have ever washed my reusable bags! However I’m sure I’m not alone. A quick study was done of patrons in a grocery store and 97 percent of shoppers admit that they have never washed their reusable bags!

A recent study funded by the American Chemistry Council found that nearly every reusable bag examined for bacteria contained bugs, coliform bacteria (suggesting raw-meat or uncooked-food contamination), mold, yeast or E. coli. The study didn’t specify what strands of E. coli were found (many of which are harmless).

If you take a moment to really think about it, people are putting meats, unwashed foods and all sorts of items in these bags. Logic would tell you these bags could get unsanitary pretty quickly, however don’t just toss your bags just yet.

Some simple tips to help keep your reusable bags clean and sanitary:

  • Reusable bags should be washed after every use when carrying food just as you would clean a kitchen towel
  • Use more than one bag and label them “Meat, Dairy, Produce,” etc.
  • Don’t leave any unwashed bags in your car, the heat can help bacteria grow

How to Wash Reusable Bags

Some bags have labels with instructions on how to launder. For those that do not, if the bag is a woven canvas bag launder in hot water with your usual detergent. These can be line dried or tossed in the dryer.  Plastic-lined reusable bags should be scrubbed using hot water and soap and air-dried.

Make sure that both the cloth and plastic-lined reusable bags are completely dry before storing them.