The Grocery Tote’s Dirty Little Secret

Health Tip

What is your grocery tote hiding?

You probably don’t give a second thought to your reusable tote bag – except when you forget to bring it to the grocery store or farmers market (and have to pay a nickel for a paper bag if you live in Seattle). So you may be surprised to learn grocery totes can be the home to foodborne pathogens, such as salmonella, listeria and E.coli. In fact, a norovirus outbreak in Oregon was traced back to a seemingly harmless reusable grocery bag and cookies.

But before you banish your bags, a simple step can keep your grocery totes safe: Wash them. Reusable totes need to be frequently washed with hot, soapy water to prevent food poisoning, but only 15 percent of Americans take this action. In addition, the Home Food Safety program recommends these tips for keeping your bags free of germs:

  • Place fresh or frozen raw meat, poultry and fish in separate totes from produce and ready-to-eat foods. A trick for this is using a color-coding system: lighter colors for produce and ready-to-eat foods and darker-colored totes for meat, poultry and fish. 
  • Clean all areas where you place your totes, such as kitchen counter or table, to reduce cross contamination.
  • Remember to store totes in a clean, dry location and avoid leaving totes in the trunk of a vehicle. 

Now, who here admits to not regularly washing his or her grocery totes and leaving them in a waded up mess in the trunk? Will you change your ways?


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