A new ordinance banning clean new plastic bags at food stores is now being publicized. This ordinance mandates reusable tote bags instead, or recyclable paper bags to be sold on an as-needed basis. The ordinance will go into effect on Jan. 1. After that date, stores will no longer provide free fresh plastic bags for food.
This kind of thing has been the practice for many years in England, where the reusable tote bags are known as "Bags for Life,"® the idea being that the consumer will only need one bag for the rest of his or her natural life. Unfortunately, there is more to these bags than the reduction of litter.
A 2010 University of Arizona study tested 84 reusable bags presented by shoppers entering a supermarket. More than half were found to harbor dangerous disease organisms like E.coli and Salmonella. Norovirus has been found in other studies. Apparently, people have been using these bags on a regular basis and not washing them. Thus germs persist for long periods, festering and growing over time. Some of the materials used in the totes, "natural" fibers like jute or cotton, are especially bad when it comes to growing things.
This happened only rarely when clean new bags were used. The finding was unexpected, but explains much about disease outbreaks noted in the media. In an online search I found some real horror stories. One entire family got E.coli, probably
I checked out the recommended source of information for this, a county website entitled www.reusablebagsac.org/. I read the whole thing and found no reference to this problem. Page after page explained what would happen to retailers if they continued to provide clean plastic bags, failed to provide recycled bags and/or failed to keep a careful tally of how many reusable bags they sold. The agency is serious about compliance, but apparently not serious about public health because there was nothing about diseases or the disease studies, which are now two years old.
There is information online about how to wash these bags. I urge users to start doing so if they haven't already. There is also information on how to keep other things clean, like counters and children's toys. Women are urged to disinfect their purses once a week, inside and out. (Nothing was said about disinfecting the contents.)
Steve Tabor is a resident of Alameda.