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Tue Feb 5, 2013, 10:44 AM

Do plastic bag bans help spread disease?

Spreading Disease

Most alarmingly, the industry has highlighted news reports linking reusable shopping bags to the spread of disease. Like this one, from the Los Angeles Times last May: “A reusable grocery bag left in a hotel bathroom caused an outbreak of norovirus-induced diarrhea and nausea that struck nine of 13 members of a girls’ soccer team in October, Oregon researchers reported Wednesday.” The norovirus may not have political clout, but evidently it, too, is rooting against plastic bags.

Warning of disease may seem like an over-the-top scare tactic, but research suggests there’s more than anecdote behind this industry talking point. In a 2011 study, four researchers examined reusable bags in California and Arizona and found that 51 percent of them contained coliform bacteria. The problem appears to be the habits of the reusers. Seventy-five percent said they keep meat and vegetables in the same bag. When bags were stored in hot car trunks for two hours, the bacteria grew tenfold.

That study also found, happily, that washing the bags eliminated 99.9 percent of the bacteria. It undercut even that good news, though, by finding that 97 percent of people reported that they never wash their bags.

Jonathan Klick and Joshua Wright, who are law professors at the University of Pennsylvania and George Mason University, respectively, have done a more recent study on the public-health impact of plastic-bag bans. They find that emergency-room admissions related to E. coli infections increased in San Francisco after the ban. (Nearby counties did not show this increase.) And this effect showed up as soon as the ban was implemented. (“There is a clear discontinuity at the time of adoption.”) The San Francisco ban was also associated with increases in salmonella and other bacterial infections. Similar effects were found in other California towns that adopted such laws.

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-02-04/the-disgusting-consequences-of-liberal-plastic-bag-bans.html



Assessment of the Potential for Cross-contamination of Food Products by Reusable Shopping Bags
David L. Williams, Charles P. Gerba, Sherri Maxwell, Ryan G. Sinclair
Biblographic citation: Food Protection Trends, vol. 31, no. 8, pp. 508-513, August 2011
Volume 31, Issue 8


The purpose of this study was to assess the potential for cross-contamination of food products by reusable bags used to carry groceries. Reusable bags were collected at random from consumers as they entered grocery stores in California and Arizona. In interviews, it was found that reusable bags are seldom if ever washed and often used for multiple purposes. Large numbers of bacteria were found in almost all bags and coliform bacteria in half. Escherichia coli were identified in 8% of the bags, as well as a wide range of enteric bacteria, including several opportunistic pathogens. When meat juices were added to bags and stored in the trunks of cars for two hours, the number of bacteria increased 10-fold, indicating the potential for bacterial growth in the bags. Hand or machine washing was found to reduce the bacteria in bags by > 99.9%. These results indicate that reusable bags, if not properly washed on a regular basis, can play a role in the cross-contamination of foods. It is recommended that the public be educated about the proper care of reusable bags by means of printed instructions on the bags or through public service announcements.

http://www.foodprotection.org/publications/food-protection-trends/article-archive/2011-08assessment-of-the-potential-for-cross-contamination-of-food-products-by-reusable-shopping-bag/

Note: The first thing mentioned in the article on this, Contaminated reusable grocery bag causes gastric illness outbreak, is pretty much BS (you can see why here: http://articles.latimes.com/2012/may/09/news/la-heb-grocery-bag-diarrhea-20120509 ) but is does bring up some interesting questions about meat, etc that may leak into the bags and such.

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Arrow 19 replies Author Time Post
Reply Do plastic bag bans help spread disease? (Original post)
The Straight Story Feb 2013 OP
AngryAmish Feb 2013 #1
randome Feb 2013 #2
Tikki Feb 2013 #3
FarCenter Feb 2013 #4
RC Feb 2013 #6
kentauros Feb 2013 #15
RC Feb 2013 #5
LiberalEsto Feb 2013 #7
gollygee Feb 2013 #8
liberal_at_heart Feb 2013 #9
Viva_La_Revolution Feb 2013 #10
Warren DeMontague Feb 2013 #11
marions ghost Feb 2013 #12
flamingdem Feb 2013 #13
JDPriestly Feb 2013 #14
robinlynne Feb 2013 #17
Xithras Feb 2013 #16
robinlynne Feb 2013 #18
Retrograde Feb 2013 #19

Response to The Straight Story (Original post)

Tue Feb 5, 2013, 10:47 AM

1. from the available science the answer is yes

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Response to The Straight Story (Original post)

Tue Feb 5, 2013, 10:57 AM

2. Damn. Nothing is simple, is it?

I thought I was doing enough by using my own bag since less than 1% of the one billion plastic bags created each year are recycled.

Now I find even that's not enough. I need to wash the bag. Oh well, it's still worth it to cut back on plastic.

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Response to The Straight Story (Original post)

Tue Feb 5, 2013, 11:11 AM

3. OOoohh...like I wrote in response to a proposal by a wannabe repug for Congress this last...

election who wanted to ban reusable shopping bags in place of plastic bags because they might get dirty.

WASH the reusable bags and in his case I suggested he ask his maid to wash them.

People reuse plastic bags, also.

Don't let these repug backed companies rule your life.


Tikki

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Response to The Straight Story (Original post)

Tue Feb 5, 2013, 11:29 AM

4. But fruits and vegetables go in the little plastic bags first

The ones that they get weighed in at checkout.

Then you put the bagged produce in the reusable bag.

And meats go in non-reusable bags at the checkout before they go in the reusable bag.

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Response to FarCenter (Reply #4)

Tue Feb 5, 2013, 11:38 AM

6. Some people do not use the plastic bags.

 

Their produce is just put loose into the cart. Some baggers just load the bags, not paying any attention as to what is what.

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Response to FarCenter (Reply #4)

Tue Feb 5, 2013, 12:55 PM

15. I use the following for produce:

Flip & Tumble Reusable Produce Bags

I have two sets, so I always have some in the car or in my bags to be taken with me. Most of my grocery bags are cotton or hemp, other than the two nylon bags. All get washed semi-regularly (every few months.)

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Response to The Straight Story (Original post)

Tue Feb 5, 2013, 11:34 AM

5. Those 'reusable bags' get set on the floor, food check out counters, kitchen counters, car trunks.

 

Set on seats with their dog in cars. Some even let their kids/cats play with them between uses. Most people make no attempt to clean them reusable bags. I have seen some used at grocery stores that were absolutely filthy. They were set on the checkout counter to be fill, contaminating the food and bags of the customers after them.
Some reusable bags cannot simply be washed. The fall apart after one or a few washings.
We reuse the plastic bags we get. Those with rips or holes, we put into the trash. I find them very handy and convenient to carry stuff in. If the contents are given to someone else, we do not need to worry about getting the bag back. Just hand it over and be done with it.
Dirty reusable bags have been an obvious problem from the beginning. Someone just now is starting to figure it out?

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Response to The Straight Story (Original post)

Tue Feb 5, 2013, 11:41 AM

7. The baby seats on grocery carts are rife with bacteria

Any kid with a runny nose or a leaky diaper that sits in one of those seats is going to leave beaucoup bacteria there.

People then place their purses or coupon holders on those seats and pick up who knows how many germs. A friend of mine who used to work as a grocery cashier warned me to never put anything in the baby seat of a cart for this reason.

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Response to The Straight Story (Original post)

Tue Feb 5, 2013, 11:45 AM

8. I do put my meat in a plastic bag

and I have washable grocery bags, though I only wash them when they look dirty - not every time I use them. I don't buy much meat so it doesn't amount to many bags. Most of my bags are used for other stuff.

And then I wash fruits and veggies before I eat them.

I guess I'm not worried about this.

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Response to The Straight Story (Original post)

Tue Feb 5, 2013, 11:47 AM

9. I bought a few reusable bags once.

I forgot to wash them and they just ended up in the bottom of a closet somewhere.

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Response to The Straight Story (Original post)

Tue Feb 5, 2013, 11:49 AM

10. I use the reusable freezer bags for meat and frozen

and the others for everything else. Always the same bag for meats.

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Response to The Straight Story (Original post)

Tue Feb 5, 2013, 11:49 AM

11. You can wash them. That said, I usually get paper bags, which I use for compost & recycling.

Maybe that makes me a terrible person, I don't know.

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Response to The Straight Story (Original post)

Tue Feb 5, 2013, 11:59 AM

12. Many localities especially rural

are banning the disposable bags. This is because they blow into fields and wreak havoc with machinery in tending and harvesting crops. There can be hundreds in one field. Also the bags get into coastal waterways and are swallowed by sea turtles, which think they are jellyfish. Many ways their manufacture and use contaminate the environment.

Disposable bags desperately need to be banned. People just need to be sensible about their reusable bags, like they would be about coolers & any reusable food containers. They will learn.

Also we all need to take reusable tote bags into any store, not just food stores. And decline bags as much as possible.

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Response to The Straight Story (Original post)

Tue Feb 5, 2013, 12:01 PM

13. I get the paper bags and use them for garbage

and recycle that way, now it's 10 cents per bag that should go to the environment but goes to the store.

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Response to The Straight Story (Original post)

Tue Feb 5, 2013, 12:31 PM

14. Take a basket to the grocery store.

Use a reusable plastic bag and wash it out after use.

Don't leave meat and vegetables or fruit in your car for two hours. Who does that anyway?

Put meat into a plastic bag whether you put the rest of your groceries in one or not.

Problem solved and number of plastic bags still reduced -- drastically reduced.

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Response to JDPriestly (Reply #14)

Tue Feb 5, 2013, 04:27 PM

17. exactly. meat left in the car for 2 hours?

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Response to The Straight Story (Original post)

Tue Feb 5, 2013, 12:55 PM

16. This brings up a real question about the environmental benefits of cloth bags.

We generate our energy primarily through coal and natural gas. What is the environmental footprint of the energy production required to heat the water, heat the dryer, and run the equipment for a single washing cycle to clean a set of grocery bags, and how does that compare to the environmental footprint of the energy and raw materials used in a plastic bag? If the ongoing energy requirements of the "cleaner" alternative are greater than the "disposable" alternative, then the "clean" alternative is a net loss for the environment.

One could argue that keeping the plastic out of our waterways is a worthy goal itself, but if the plastic debris is simply replaced with a larger amount of detergent runoff from our wastewater facilities, then we're simply replacing one type of pollution with another.

Personally, I've always considered bag bans to be the wrong way to approach the problem. I'd much rather see mandatory and refundable recycling deposits imposed on them...something like $1 per bag. If people still don't recycle, the deposits can be used to fund cleanup programs (California alone uses more than 10 billion bags a year, so we're talking about a lot of money), but the high bounty means that the vast majority of the bags WILL be recycled.

I would couple this with a graduated tax on the purchase of new grocery bags by the stores themselves. Bags made of 100% recycled materials pay no tax. Bags of all new material pay a high tax. 50% recycled materials? Pay 50% of the tax.

Together, the two would largely eliminate plastic bag pollution AND create a market for recycled bags.

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Response to Xithras (Reply #16)

Tue Feb 5, 2013, 04:31 PM

18. We only generate our energy through fossil fuels BECAUSE of the lobbyists from those industries, etc

We do not need to be using fossil fuels. We know that.

It is not simply replacing one kind of pollution with another. Detergent can all be phosphate free, easily. PLastic can not become organic. ever.

Plastic substitutes will become inexpensive and available as soon as the plastics are banned. just as electric cars did. The solutions are all out there. It is ONLY political will that is lacking.


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Response to The Straight Story (Original post)

Tue Feb 5, 2013, 09:34 PM

19. Brought to you by the plastic bag industry?

Norovirus is no fun (I speak from experience), but it's transmitted by a lot more things than reusable bags, mainly infected people who don't wash their hands thoroughly after defecation. It can survive on surfaces such as handrails and walls, and can be easily transmitted by contact with other infected people.

It's a lot easier to train people to wash their hands properly before handling food (and to make sure the food is handled in a safe fashion, and to clean containers and bags - a little bleach does wonders), but how is *that* going to profit the plastics people?

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