Homeowner Helpers: Cleaning reusable bags so they won’t make you sick

Homeowner HelpersWhy is cleaning reusable bags important? For the “ick” factor, first of all. More importantly, for your health.

Reusable bags are a great way to curb our use of plastic bags, which take years to decompose and add to landfill woes. But unlike plastic bags, which can be tossed when they get gross, your reusable bags need to be cleaned.

It’s a health thing

The fabric or other materials in reusable grocery bags can become easily contaminated with nasty germs such as salmonella or E.coli from food or other items, as well as mould and more. Germs can then cross-contaminate other items in our bags and make us sick.


A food safety report by researchers from the University of Arizona and Loma Linda University in California found that most reusable grocery shopping bags harbour multiple harmful bacteria. More than 50 per cent were contaminated with bacteria, and E.coli was found in over 12 per cent of the tested bags. During their study, in a quick survey at a grocery store, 97 per cent of shoppers admit that they have never washed their reusable grocery shopping bags.

Using and storing

Use separate bags for raw meats, seafood and produce. (It may go against your eco-conscious efforts, but your raw meats should be placed in disposable plastic bags before going into your reusable ones. The plastic bag will help contain juices and minimize contamination.) And keep bags for non-food items separate from food bags.

Do you usually keep your bags in your trunk? Not a good idea, especially in the summer. It’s a dark, warm and often humid environment that promotes bacteria growth. It’s better to store them at home in a cool, dry place.


And don’t place your bags in the baby carrier section of the grocery cart. This is the most contaminated area of the cart and bacteria can transfer to your shopping bags.

Cleaning your bags

Wash your reusable bags frequently, even once a week. Many can go through the washing machine and then either air dry or go in the dryer. Not sure about yours? Here’s a handy guide, courtesy of the American Cleaning Institute:

how to clean reusable bags


After washing, make sure your bags are dry before storing.

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