Can Grocery Totes Get You Sick?

reusable grocery bagPaper, plastic or canvas….with a side of E. coli?  Can eco-friendly grocery totes carry your bread along with bad bugs? 

The “paper or plastic” question is so yesterday as most of us now use hip reusable grocery totes.  I know I have a drawer full of chic, colorful grocery totes that I feel reflect my personality or make some type of statement (ie my pink ones for breast cancer awareness month).  I haven’t used a regular grocery bag in quite some time, but when I heard about a small study suggests that these totes may be carrying around more than my fruits and veggies, I started paying more attention to making sure they’re clean.

In the study, researchers at the University of Arizona and Loma Linda University intercepted shoppers in CA and AZ and tested 84 reusable grocery bags for bacteria that cause foodborne illness, like E. coli and Listeria.  While they did not find the typical bacteria that they were looking for, the bags were not squeaky clean. Other bacteria were isolated that could cause GI upset and other symptoms among those with weakened immune systems.

While your tote is probably safe, they can easily lead to cross-contamination from raw meat, poultry and fish and other foods like fresh fruits or veggies.  Here’s 5 Steps to Take to ensure your eco-friendly tote doesn’t make you or your family sick.

5 Ways to Keep Your Reusable Grocery Bag Bug-Free

1. Wash your grocery bag frequently in the washing machine or by hand with hot, soapy water. (Look on the inside of your bag to see if it has cleaning instructions.)

2. Place raw meats, poultry and fish in separate plastic bags then place in your tote. Keep these foods separated from raw produce and ready-to-eat foods to avoid cross-contamination.

3. Clean your countertops where you place your totes, as bacteria may luck on the outer surfaces of your tote and can cause cross-contamination.

4. Always wash fruits and veggies before eating and wash your hands before and after handling food.

5. Avoid keeping refrigerated food out of the refrigeration for more than two hours and in hot weather (as in the trunk of a car) for no more than an hour.

For more great food safety advice, visit home food safety.

–Julie Upton, MS, RD, CSSD


  1. Beth M. says

    Eww! I think my reusable bags are all due for a cleaning….thanks for the awareness article! I’ll be adding “clean grocery bags” to my monthly to do list!

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