In a quick survey at a grocery store, 97 percent of shoppers admit that they have never washed their reusable bags. I admit, I am one of them. I know, GROSS, right? This is now #1 on my Spring Cleaning list!
One of the biggest problems with these bags is cross-contamination. This happens when meats, produce and pre-cooked foods are placed in soiled bags. Fresh meat should be wrapped separately in plastic bags before being placed in your bag, but that doesn't mean other contaminants won't find their way into your reusable bags. Bacteria, yeasts, and molds from produce, and other food items can easily transfer their way onto the welcoming interior surface of your sacks and linger there, waiting for a chance to leech onto your new purchases.
So how do you keep all the different bag materials clean? It really depends on what the bag is made of. Here are some tips to keep those bags clean:
- Have more than one bag and label them as Meat, Produce, Dairy, Cleaning Supplies. Double bag any items that may leak.
- MEAT: Choose a bag that’s easily identifiable. For example, look for a specific personalized reusable shopping bag, color or design that will remind you that this is your ‘meat bag’. Make sure it’s made of machine washable material. Pull the bag from your pile and put the meat on top at checkout, then tell the cashier to use that bag for meat. Don’t forget to wash it when you get home.
- SEAFOOD—Use another bag for seafood, which often times is sufficiently wrapped, but can benefit from the use of one of the heavier duty “freezer” bags to help keep it fresh.
- PRODUCE - Separate all fruits and vegetables from other items. Use a reusable shopping bag for produce to avoid plastic produce bags. Unload your fruits and veggies at checkout, then reload them into the same bag. Don’t forget to wash your bag, and your produce, when you get home.
- PREPACKAGED FOODS - Once your meat and produce bags are separated, you’ll know that the rest of your bags are only used for prepackaged foods and groceries. With layers & layers of packaging used these days, your food should be more than safe.
- DAIRY - Like Seafood and Meat, keep dairy separate too
- Use these bags only for carrying food - no gym clothes, diapers, chemicals or gardening supplies
- Sorting bags by color or store name can help you remember which bags are to be used for which items. Perhaps red for meat, blue for seafood, green for produce, etc. Or you can write in a permanent marker on the bag.
- And lastly, do not leave unwashed bags in your car. The heat is a perfect incubator for bacteria to multiply.
Cotton reusable grocery bags are machine washable and dryer safe—making them the easiest to wash. It's a good idea to toss your bags in the wash after every use, then tumble dry on a low setting to keep them from getting wrinkled and balled up.
Nylon or or poly nylon reusable bags should be hand washed, turned inside and out in warm soapy water and hung to dry—again, inside out and right side out to ensure all the moisture is gone on the inside. Make sure to pay special attention to the nooks and crannies around the seams.
Laminated reusable bags should be wiped down with a wet cloth or “washed” with a disinfectant spray or let it soak in a basin filled with soapy water and either the juice of half a lemon or about a quarter cup of vinegar. Other non-fabric reusable shopping bags can also be cleaned this way. Let them air dry completely, both inside out AND right side out. This ensures all the seams, nooks, and crannies are dry and aren’t retaining any moisture that can turn into mold.
Non woven polypropylene bags can also be sprayed down with an antibacterial spray cleaner, but remember to turn the bags inside out and carefully clean the inner seams.
*A vinegar and water spray solution or environmentally friendly all purpose cleaner (you don’t want toxic fumes near fresh food). Spray the interior of your bag and towel dry.
*Good old fashioned soap and warm water can usually do the trick. Wipe the interior of you bags down and then hang dry.
*If you feel as though you must, you can wash most bags in the washing machine, on cold, but do NOT place bags (except 100% cotton and the like) in the dryer. NOTE: you will most likely lose the cute folds and shape of your bag if you place them in the washing machine, but if they are really foul, go ahead and sacrifice those folds!