The Public Eye

Reports from the Bee's investigative team

July 20, 2010
Reusable shopping bags: Spreading germs or spreading fear?

The Yuck Factor has entered California's contentious shopping-bag debate.

As the state moves closer to passing a ban on single-use plastic bags, researchers at Loma Linda University and the University of Arizona have unveiled a wrinkle in the reusable shopping bag movement.

In a new study, the researchers found that environmentally conscious shoppers almost never wash those reusable cloth bags, exposing their food purchases and themselves to bacteria.

The researchers, who randomly collected reusable bags from shoppers in California and Arizona, found large numbers of bacteria in almost all the bags, and coliform in half. When meat juices were added to the bags and stored in vehicle trunks for two hours, bacteria increased almost 10-fold.

"These results indicate that reusable bags can play a significant role in the cross contamination of foods if not properly washed on a regular basis," the authors concluded. "It is 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."

Supporters of the plastic-bag ban, set to go before the Senate Appropriations Committee, accused the American Chemistry Council -- which sponsored the study -- of using a scare tactic to scuttle the measure. If AB 1998 passes, California would be the first in the nation to ban grocery, liquor and drug stores from providing free paper or plastic bags.

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About The Public Eye

Welcome to The Bee's newest blog: Public Eye. In the coming months, you will see us breaking news here as well as following up on investigations we have published with tidbits, news breaks and behind-the-scenes descriptions of our news-gathering process. Know of a wrong we could right? Send our fraud squad your tips at: fraudsquad@sacbee.com.

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