Blogs & Comment

The health risk of 5-cent grocery bags

Many grocery stores, nudged by government legislation and environmental concerns, now charge 5 cents for each plastic bag used to pack groceries. But the side effect may be the creation of a health hazard.
Several bloggers have posted on the shift to the five-cent bag. Michael Jamesnoted: Economic incentives like this one are often a much better way of driving behaviour than setting rules. A post by blogger Canadian Capitalistremarked on the incentive aspect as well, plus the bonus points one gets on their Presidents Choice card for each reusable bag purchased at a Loblaw store. All good stuff.
Yet, there may be another economic lesson and that is the law of unintended consequences (the main lesson in Henry Hazelitts book, Economics in One Lesson). It apears the push to switch shoppers to reusable bags poseshealth risks.
Twolaboratories obtained reusable bags from shoppers leaving major grocery stores (offering each shopper a new reusable bag as replacement for their existing bag). They also asked the shoppers a series of questions about their bag, including its age, frequency of use, and whether it was ever washed. Four new bags also were tested as controls.
More than 30% of the used bags were found to have unsafe levels of bacteria. As well, yeast or mold was in 40% of them. Disposable plastic bags, by comparison, contained no evidence of bacterial contamination, mold or yeast.
It appears the dark, warm interior of a folded reusable bag is an ideal incubator for bacteria, should it acquire a small amount of water and/or food residue. A thirdlab assessed and confirmed the findings of the first two. More detail is available in The Grocery Bag Dilemma.
Anyways, it appears the main upshot here is that those who use reusable bags should make sure they are clean!