By Tamara Gane
A supermarket in America, , customers are still allowed to bring bags from home, provided they’re willing to package their own groceries.
Cailin Carlile works for a shop that has recently implemented such a policy to minimise the number of surfaces touched by cashiers. She said, “If we touch a contaminated bag and then touch another person’s cash or bag, then we’re only making more opportunities to spread illness.”
In some cases, banning reusable bags might not even be possible. Karlie Frisbee Brogan works at a large chain which recently encouraged customers to bring their own bags because they were experiencing a paper bag shortage at her store. She said she was never fond of touching reusable bags people brought from home, even before the coronavirus crisis, “but especially once the pandemic hit, I really didn’t want to handle their unwashed bags.”
It’s hard to blame her. Studies have shown that over 50% of reusable bags contain large quantities of bacteria and many even contain E. Coli and faecal matter. Food safety expert Jeff Nelken said that to be safe, reusable bags should be cleaned every time you use them. In the age of the coronavirus, this is even more important. Luckily, he said, it’s very easy to do.
If you have disinfectant wipes on hand, Nelken said, you can use them to give your bags a good wipe down — but make sure they contain disinfectant approved by the Environmental Protection Agency, and to be sure to follow the instructions on the label.
If you don’t have wipes on hand, Nelken said you can make a homemade disinfecting solution with 4 teaspoons of unscented bleach for every 4 cups of water. Mix it in a spray bottle, spray on your reusable bag and wipe with a towel. The leftover mixture can also be used to wipe down household surfaces. He recommends making a new batch on a daily basis. Nelken said scented bleach can be substituted if necessary, but the resulting mix may be weaker in potency. This solution works with both plastic and fabric bags, but in the case of fabric, it’s always a good idea to perform a spot test first if you’re worried about discolouration before using a bleach solution or any other cleaner.
In cases where bleach isn’t available, Nelken said that hydrogen peroxide is another option: “According to the CDC, hydrogen peroxide is a stable and effective disinfectant against a wide variety of microorganisms, including bacteria and viruses, when used on hard, non-porous surfaces. Typically sold in 3% solutions, hydrogen peroxide can be used as-is, directly from the bottle. It’s best to keep it away from fabrics when cleaning and to wear gloves to protect your hands.”
If you’re interested in throwing fabric bags in the washing machine, be sure to read the label for care instructions. The CDC recommends washing and drying fabrics at the hottest allowable temperatures and Nelken recommends adding 4 ounces of bleach to your detergent to be extra safe.