A new study indicates that opting for reusable grocery bags is dangerous to your health unless you wash the fabric bags after each use.

“The main risk is food poisoning,” said Dr. Richard Summerbell, former chief of medical mycology at the Ontario Ministry of Health, “but other significant risks include skin infections such as bacterial boils, allergic reactions, triggering of asthma attacks, and ear infections.”

The microbiological study involved swab-testing by two independent labs, which identified unacceptable levels of bacteria, yeast, mold and e coli in the popular eco-friendly bags. Almost two-thirds had some level of bacteria and almost 30% had more bacteria than what is called safe for drinking water.

“The presence of fecal material in some of the reusable bags is particularly concerning,” Dr. Summerbell added. “All meat products should be individually wrapped before being placed in a reusable bag to prevent against leakage. This should be come a mandated safety standard across the entire grocery industry.” He also cautioned against carrying sweaty gym clothes or dirty diapers in grocery bags to avoid cross-contaminating foods with MRSA, the antibiotic-resistant infectious bacteria.

The study, reported in Canadian newspaper The National Post, was paid for by the Environmental and Plastics Industry Council, which admittedly promotes the plastics industry. The growing use of cloth and woven polypropolene bags is an effort to minimize the environmental impact of disposable plastic bags.

If you do opt for reusable bags, there are some ways to reduce the risk of exposing yourself to e coli and other bacteria which could make you and your family sick:

  • Cook foods thoroughly,
  • Wash each bag after each use,
  • Do not store bags in your car or garage (bacteria loves warm places),
  • Double-wrap meats and don’t place them in bags with ready-to-eat foods,
  • Bring food home from store and put it away immediately. Don’t leave food in the hot car while you make other stops on your way home.

All this assumes, of course, that you actually remember to take your reusable bags INTO the store when you go shopping. That’s the one step I can’t seem to master. Good luck!