The study showed that shoppers typically did not wash reusable grocery bags, and often stored them in car boots, resulting in the growth of bacteria. “If individuals fail to clean their reusable bags, these bacteria may lead to contamination of the food transported in the bags. Such contamination has the potential to lead to health problems and even death,” the paper states.
The paper suggests washing reusable grocery bags could be the solution to health concerns, but could then have adverse environmental effects through increased use of water, detergent, and energy – in essence, nullifying the environmental benefits offered by banning plastic bags.
Recently, many jurisdictions have implemented bans or imposed taxes upon plastic grocery bags on environmental grounds. San Francisco County was the first major US jurisdiction to enact such a regulation, implementing a ban in 2007. There is evidence, however, that reusable grocery bags, a common substitute for plastic bags, contain potentially harmful bacteria. We examine emergency room admissions related to these bacteria in the wake of the San Francisco ban. We find that ER visits spiked when the ban went into effect. Relative to other counties, ER admissions increase by at least one fourth, and deaths exhibit a similar increase