Bacteria living inside your re-usable shopping bag

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Reported by: Sharon Phillips
Updated: 11/18/2013 10:03 pm Published: 11/18/2013 9:59 pm

They're popular, easy to use and you save a tree. But did you know that bacteria can live inside your reusable shopping bag and eventually could make you sick?

FOX23 found lots of shoppers here at Whole Foods going green by saying no to that paper bag and bringing their own instead. Linda Walker says she has been using reusable shopping bags for six years now.
"The landfills are running out of space and so every time you go to the store they put one thing in a plastic bag, so then you end up leaving with 20 plastic bags."

It's something she prides herself in, but she admits she doesn't keep them as clean as she should.

"I've actually never cleaned them out, but I do use a Lysol spray on them occasionally just because they've been in my trunk," Walker tells us.

We found mom of five Kayla DeMoss in the checkout line. She is a faithful reusable bag shopper, but today, she forgot them and is forced to use paper bags.
It's something she's not excited about.

"I find that I use them for everything when the kids are running in and out of activities. We throw stuff in them and then I throw them in the washing machine to get the grime off of them."

After she washes them, she tells me she usually lets them air dry in the sun.

"I can see how if you didn't do that it could get pretty icky," DeMoss said.

Since most food-borne illnesses are believed to start in your home, reusing your grocery bags can create the perfect environment for cross-contaminating your food.

We decided to test three different bags at random to see what types of bacteria, if any, could be found inside. We took them to microbiologist Dr. Mohamed Fakhr at the University of Tulsa.

"The ones that you need to worry about are mainly food-borne pathogens, particularly on meat."

Dr. Fakrh tested the bags and found microbes or bacteria inside all three. The number of bacteria on the three shopping bags we left him averaged about 500 per bag. The highest one contained chicken.

"Let's say you go to the grocery store and you buy something like chicken and you put it in your bag. Then the next time you go to the store, you buy vegetables and you use the same bag, microbiologists say it's vital that you wash your bag every single time."

He also tested a few used bags donated by other people and found the average number of bacteria per bag was around 30,000.

Thankfully, no salmonella was detected in any of the bags.

"While going green is good and we can still say it's good, but you probably might want to wash or rewash your bags, I would suggest every time you run to the grocery store," Dr. Fakrh told us.

We do want to mention that because the number of bags that we tested was so small, the results cannot be 100 percent statistically accurate. Hand or machine washing your bag can reduce the bacteria by up to 99.9 percent.

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