- WEB EXCLUSIVE
- PE COFFEEHAUS
In my childhood days, there were only paper bags used to contain groceries. They were great and provided multiple opportunities to recycle the product. Nearly every home kept a collection of the bags in the kitchen, usually under the sink. They were used as kindling for the fireplace. The brown containers provided hours of entertainment. Place an open bag on the floor and watch the household cat go crazy zipping in and out of it. My brother and I put together a number of puppet shows for our parents. With a sharp pair of scissors, they could be transformed into creatures, buildings, vehicles, etc.
Even plastic bags provide some opportunities for reuse ideas. They can carry more than just food stuffs. They are usually the perfect size as liners for small wastebaskets. At my house, we store them in the skirt area of a doll-like device hanging in the kitchen and pull them out to fill with clothes for the kids or grandkids and their overnight excursions. As a teaching tool, they can be used to study the concept that hot air rises by making a hot air balloon.
There was a lot of discussion about how much energy it took to make plastic bags. Others argued that it took much more fuel to move the heavier paper bags to their destinations. Plastic bags would survive in landfills for hundreds of years. Paper bags required too much water to manufacture. The arguments seemed endless and the educational and entertainment values were never a part of the discussions.
However, there was a lack of discussion of the dangers that reusable bags could create. Think about what goes into such a bag. Meats with packaging that could leak juices and raw vegetables. Most reusable bags are made of a durable canvas. The bags are strong and can survive repeated trips to the store. However, the canvas material is also porous and there are usually creases. Such features can capture the fluids from food and tiny scraps. Tossing them into the laundry will usually get the juices out but the scraps can remain trapped. Studies are finding that most people do not launder or clean their bags. This can lead to terrible problems.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, noroviruses are responsible for more than half of all reported outbreaks of gastroenteritis. The chart is from the CDC and indicates the results of studies of food borne outbreaks from 2006 to 2008. These viruses cause vomiting, diarrhea and strong stomach cramping. They are spread from people contact, consuming tainted food or water, or touching contaminated objects such as reusable bags or countertops that have not been properly sanitized.
Recently, a study in Oregon found that a group of soccer players had become infected from contact with a contaminated reusable grocery bag. At the very least, these bags should be tossed into the laundry after each trip to the store. I would suggest only buying white canvas bags and using bleach in the wash cycle. The fancy store logos and advertising that can be added to the bag have no value so if they are lost in the bleach process, so much the better.
The norovirus is not the only object of concern with reusable bags. Funguses can grow and cause allergic reactions. E-coli are an oft seen contaminant that can be the result of improperly cleaned bags. The bags are placed in trunks, car floors and on the ground during transport where they can pick up any number of undesirable materials or even critters. It would also be a good idea to wipe down the countertops after the groceries are stored away. A growing number of communities are banning the paper or plastic choices. Let’s take steps to avoid a growing problem with pathogens by educating users.