Putting food shopping in bags for life could increase your risk of food poisoning if you don’t follow certain precautionary measures.
The advice includes separating raw and ready-to-eat products into separate bags and washing fabric bags regularly.
The tips originally appeared on the FSA website in August but have hit headlines this week following allegations of poor hygiene regulations at major food suppliers in the UK.
According to the FSA even wrapped raw foods such chicken may have “traces of harmful bugs on the outside of the packaging”, meaning they should not be placed next to ready-to-eat foods.
While the NHS says salmonella and campylobacter bacteria - two of the most common sources of food poisoning - only survive for around 1-4 hours on hard surfaces or fabrics, other studies suggest E. coli could survive on lettuce for more than 25 days.
A previous study by the University of Pennsylvania and George Mason University linked San Francisco’s ban on plastic bags to a spike in people seeking treatment for E. coli infections in the state.
The study’s findings echo a 2011 paper conducted by researchers at the University of Arizona and the Loma Linda University School of Public Heath, which found E. coli bacteria in 8% of reusable shopping bags surveyed at random.
That’s not to say reusable bags are a bad thing. Figures suggest shoppers in the UK use six billion fewer plastic bags each year since the 5p charge was introduced. What’s more, the charge has resulted in more than £29 million from retailers going towards good causes including charities and community groups.
With that in mind, the FSA has published the following food safety advice for how to use bags for life without risking your health:
1. Use separate bags.
The experts recommend keeping raw foods, ready-to-eat foods and non-food products (e.g. cleaning materials) in separate bags. they advise labelling bags for life so you know what you intend to use each for. Don’t stray from your own code and do not use a bag that’s previously been used for raw products for ready-to-eat foods.
2. Choose your material wisely.
If you plan to re-use bags regularly and can’t be bothered to replace them, the FSA says you may want to opt for a cotton-based bag for life. Although these are usually more expensive, they tend to be machine washable. Alternatively a standard plastic bag for life tends to cost 10p. These are not machine washable but many supermarkets will replace them free of charge when they are damaged or old.
3. Use freezer bags during hot weather.
This will help to keep perishable foods cooler for longer and reduce the risk of foods spoiling.
4. Check your bags for leaks and spillages.
The FSA advises checking bags for spillages - particularly raw meat juices - after every use. If any soiling has occurred fabric bags should be put in the washing machine while plastic bags should be replaced.