Here’s how to use reusable bags

There is lot of current controversy about grocery bags.

Regardless of which side of the fence you are on, the bigger issue is the safety of the bags you put your groceries into and what comes out. Cross-contamination is a key factor, particularly when meat, produce and pre-cooked items are commingled.

Regardless of how Durango City Council rules, I trust it will include a public-education campaign to alert us about risk and prevention. Perhaps city councilors can engage our students in a public education campaign. Poster contests at local schools can help educate our residents about the need to clean bags regularly (grocery and lunch bags).

One small study assessed the presence of bacteria as well as the effect of washing the reusable bags for reduction of bacteria. Stanford University completed a small study in three locations – San Francisco, Tucson and Los Angeles. Researchers collected reusable bags from consumers as they entered the stores. It was found that 97 percent of those questioned seldom, if ever, washed the bags, and only 30 percent of the bags were used solely for groceries. Few people separated vegetables and raw meat into different bags, and most of the bags were transported and stored in cars.

In this study, 11 types of bacteria were screened for and found in almost all of the re-use bags in varying amounts. No bacteria was found in new bags or plastic bags. All in all, bacteria found was a result of contamination by raw meats or other uncooked food products. Bacteria in those bags stored in the trunk of a vehicle increased tenfold (116 degrees F).

No, this is not the demise of our community, but a few suggestions to consider are in order:

Type of bag to use: Some reusable grocery bags such as canvas style require less energy in creating them and hold up better for weekly washing.

The organic cotton bags are free from negative chemicals and pesticides, which means your food will not be exposed to toxins when transported. Other materials can leech chemicals into the food stored inside the bags.

Choose bags that are strong enough and large enough to transport your food without breaking or tearing.

Wipe out bags using a cloth and some cleaning/disinfectant solution after each use.

For those bags that are washable (canvas or canvas/polyester), wash in cold water on gentle cycle in the washing machine at least once per month and dry thoroughly. Nylon, polypropylene or jute bags are better being hand washed or wiped out and not machine washed.

Keep raw meat separate from other groceries. An ideal scenario would be to have specific bags identified for meats, for produce and for “other.” This helps prevention of cross contamination.

There are quilted insulated bags available for keeping refrigerated and frozen foods at safer temperatures. Investing a few dollars for such a bag is well worth it, though wiping out is preferred over the washing machine for this material.

Use your grocery bags for food. Use other bags for books, gym clothes, etc.

Avoid storing reusable bags in the trunk of your car.

ricekw@co.laplata.co.us or 247-4355. Wendy Rice is family and consumer science agent for the La Plata County Extension Office.