ON Health: Could going green make you sick?

ON Health: Could going green make you sick?

Reusable bags can transmit pathogens  

More often than not, Gryphons opt for eco-friendly reusable bags instead of their plastic predecessors. Of course, this is a choice fueled by good intentions, but could your reusable bags be making you sick?

“Anything reusable is always going to be prone to contamination,” says Keith Warriner, a food safety expert and professor at the University of Guelph.

He explains how people often threw away their plastic grocery bags in the past, so food poisoning was never a major concern.

The juices that leak from meat placed into reusable grocery bags have the potential to create a residue called a biofilm on the inside surface. Biofilms are a sticky matrix that promote microbial growth.

“Biofilms are nature’s way of preserving bacteria,” says Warriner. “Once you get a biofilm, it’s very hard to remove.”

Some of the groceries you buy may carry pathogens such as Salmonella or Campylobacter — and these have the potential to make people sick.

If a piece of chicken carries Salmonella, the biofilms found inside a reusable bag will be the perfect home for the bacteria to grow. If you then place ready-to-eat foods, like grapes, into the bag, they will become the perfect vessel for the bacteria to enter your body.

Warriner explains that biofilms may last for months, and there is no definitive way to tell if your reusable bags are a carrier for food-borne illnesses or not.

But don’t fret, there are ways to help prevent you from getting sick.

Here is a brief list, provided by Warriner, that includes ways you can avoid foodborne illness from reusable grocery bags:

  • When you buy meat, wrap it: use a plastic bag, or another precaution, to contain juices containing bacteria
  • Have different bags for different purposes: one for meat, one for ready-to-eat food, and one for chemicals/cleaners
  • Use bags for their designated purpose: avoid putting your dirty gym clothes, which could harbour bacteria, into your grocery bags
  • Wash them: cloth bags can be cleaned in the laundry and plastic bags can be washed with some water and a bit of bleach

Warriner does point out that no study has proven the risk of food poisoning being contracted from reusable bags, however, preventative actions are always a safe choice, especially if you want to avoid any emergency washroom visits.