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Reusable Grocery Bags Can Carry Harmful Norovirus


Many of us decline both paper and plastic options to bag our groceries thanks to the widened availability of reusable totes. It’s a simple change that helps the environment, but green bags may carry an unwanted danger along with your freshly bought groceries, reports MSNBC

Questions about the safety and sanitation of reusable grocery bags stem from a 2010 incident in Oregon, involving several members of a youth soccer team who became ill with symptoms like vomiting and diarrhea. After the first player to fall ill left without any further contact with her teammates, several other girls fell violently ill in the subsequent days. Scientists eventually traced the illness back to packaged cookies, which had been kept in a reusable bag that was in the hotel room of the first player to become sick. Weeks later, the bag still tested positive for norovirus.

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Noroviruses are highly contagious and the main cause of gastroenteritis (or stomach flu), causing an estimated 21 million cases a year, 70,000 hospitalizations, and 800 deaths. And they’re tough to combat because they can live on objects and surfaces for extended periods of time. Although it’s unlikely that one might contract an illness from any given bag, researchers at the University of Arizona and Loma Linda University found large numbers of bacteria in reusable grocery bags, including 12 percent that were contaminated with E. coli. The number of bacteria jumped 10-fold when scientists stored the bags in the trunks of cars for two hours. Yuck

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The good news is that the study found that washing reusable shopping bags regularly decreased contamination by 99.9 percent. “We wash our clothes when they’re dirty; we should wash our bags, too,” said Kimberly K. Repp, an epidemiologist with the Washington County Department of Health and Human Services in Oregon, to MSNBC.  She recommended that a regular simple wipe down with Lysol or Clorox can do the trick.   

Do you clean your reusable grocery bags? Did you know that your tote could be so easily contaminated?