Thursday, May 21, 2009

Paper, Plastic or Moldy Bacteria?


We've been using those eco-friendly, reusable, fabric grocery bags for quite a while now. Who knew that in doing so we have been taking some serious health risks?

Check this report from Canada's National Post.

A microbiological study — a first in North America — of the popular, eco-friendly bags has uncovered some unsettling facts. Swab-testing by two independent laboratories found unacceptably high levels of bacterial, yeast, mold and coliform counts in the reusable bags.

"The main risk is food poisoning," Dr. Richard Summerbell, research director at Toronto-based Sporometrics and former chief of medical mycology for the Ontario Ministry of Health, stated in a news release. Dr. Summerbell evaluated the study results.

"But other significant risks include skin infections such as bacterial boils, allergic reactions, triggering of asthma attacks, and ear infections," he stated.

The study found that 64% of the reusable bags tested were contaminated with some level of bacteria and close to 30% had elevated bacterial counts higher than what's considered safe for drinking water.

Further, 40% of the bags had yeast or mold, and some of the bags had an unacceptable presence of coliforms, faecal intestinal bacteria, when there should have been 0...

The study was funded by the Environment and Plastics Industry Council (EPIC), an industry initiative to promote responsible use and recovery of plastic resources. EPIC is a committee of the Canadian Plastics Industry Association.

Conclusions from the study? This may have you gladly handing over the coins for plastic bags at the supermarket:

• The moist, dark, warm interior of a folded used reusable bag that has acquired a small amount of water and trace food contamination is an ideal incubator for bacteria.

• The strong presence of yeasts in some bags indicates the presence of water and microbial growth substrate (food).

• There is a potential for cross-contamination of food if the same reusable bags are used on successive trips.

• Check-out staff in stores may be transferring these microbes from reusable bag to reusable bag as the contaminants get on their hands.

• In cases of food poisoning, experts will have to test reusable bags in addition to food products as the possible sources of contamination...

Thus, your questions now become 1) "Is opting for reusable grocery sacks worth the health risk?" and 2) "If I choose to clean the reusable bags, doesn't having to use water, soap, bleach and the electrical energy to run the washing machine offset any environmental advantages anyway?"