Reusables And Your Health

Food Poisoning in Canada

Each year 4 million Canadians – 1 in 8 Canadians -- are affected by a foodborne illness caused by bacteria, parasites and viruses. The data shows 11,600 hospitalizations and 238 deaths on average yearly, some of which are avoidable.

The most common culprits leading to death are the norovirus, literia monocytogenes , salmonella and e-coli 0157 (Escherichia coli 157)

Reusable bags pose a public health risk to users

When was the last time you washed that reusable bag you use to carry your groceries home from the store? Like most Canadians, how about next to never. A 2015 Crop Poll conducted in Montreal found that 66% of users rarely wash their reusable bag.

And this poses a big problem. Because these bags are reused frequently, they can pick up bacteria from the foods they carry, or from their environment (the ground, the closet, the back of your car or even items stored in them between grocery trips).

Study after study shows that reusable bags with repeated use pose a health risk from bacterial cross-contamination of the food. Unwashed reusable bags offer a fertile breeding ground for bacteria, parasites and viruses that can cause foodborne illness.

Health Canada has issued numerous health alerts about the use of reusable bags since 2012 recommending that reusable bags be washed frequently, if not after every use, to avoid bacterial build up in the bag.

Health Canada recommends the following safety tips to help to prevent cross-contamination of your food and food poisoning:

  • Machine wash cloth bags frequently, especially after carrying fresh produce, meat, poultry or fish. Reusable grocery bags may not all be machine washable. If yours are not, you should wash them by hand frequently with hot soapy water.
  • Put fresh or frozen raw meat, poultry and fish in separate bins or bags from fresh produce and other ready-to-eat foods.
  • At store, put your fresh or frozen raw meat, poultry or fish in plastic bags (the clear bags found in the produce and some meat sections work well) to prevent the juices from leaking and contaminating your reusable bag and the food  you are transporting.
  • Fresh produce should also be put in plastic bags to help protect it from contamination.
  • If you are using your grocery bags to store or transport non-food items, they should be washed thoroughly before using them for groceries.