Reusable cloth grocery bags and food safety

The popular reusable grocery bags are a major food safety hazard if not properly cared for.

People who are “green” or environmentally conscience are using reusable bags for grocery shopping as a way of protecting the environment and in some cases, saving money. They resist using plastic shopping bags because plastic shopping bags are not biodegradable, which means they remain intact because they do not breakdown naturally by air, water or bacteria and can pollute the environment for years.

However, food safety experts at Michigan State University Extension and elsewhere, are concerned that consumers may not be aware of the potential risk of food contamination and illness due to continuous use of unclean reusable grocery bags. Meat, poultry juices, dirt and sand from unwashed produce can cause recyclable bags to become contaminated.

The following are food safety guidelines for washing your recyclable bags and keeping your food safe while transporting your food from the grocery store to your home.

General Guidelines:

  • Frequently wash your tote in the washing machine or by hand with hot, soapy water.
  • Clean all areas where you place your bags, such as kitchen counter or table to reduce cross contamination.
  • Store totes in a clean, dry location.
  • Avoid leaving totes in the trunk of a vehicle.

While Shopping:

  • Place fresh or frozen raw meat, poultry and fish in separate clean bags from produce and ready-to-eat foods.

When using bags to transport non-food items:

  • Make sure to wash your tote, if used to transport non-food items, before placing produce and ready-to-eat items inside your tote.

For more tips on reusable grocery totes visit

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