Taking care of the planet should pay off with good karma, but instead the result can be food poisoning—or at least that's the warning issued this week by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. They did a survey in partnership with ConAgra foods and found that only one in six Americans frequently washes their reusable shopping bags.
I have to admit that I've never washed mine, though I occasionally shake them out to empty stray onion skins or parsley stems. But apparently my cavalier attitude toward bag sanitation is putting my family at risk for foodborne illnesses like salmonella and E. coli.
"Cross-contamination occurs when juices from raw meats or germs from unclean objects come in contact with cooked or ready-to-eat foods like breads or produce," said registered dietitian and Academy spokesperson Ruth Frechman in a statement. "Unwashed grocery bags are lingering with bacteria which can easily contaminate your foods." She suggests we wash our totes, either in a machine or by hand with hot, soapy water, and stay vigilant about separating uncooked meat from other foods—have one bag where the raw meat and/or fish always goes, and other bags for everything else (just as you should have separate cutting boards).
Remember that food poisoning poses serious risks—the CDC estimates that close to 120,000 people were hospitalized and more than 3000 people died last year as a result of pathogens in their food. Visit the Home Food Safety website for more tips on how to avoid food poisoning.
Honestly, though, I can't promise that I'll practice what I preach on this one—my family cooks very little meat and it's hard for me to believe that we're at risk, and even harder for me to imagine adding "wash shopping bags" to my to-do list. But if I get sick as a result I won't be able to say that I wasn't warned.