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Unwashed reusable bags could become a health risk

Danielle Le Messurier, July 5, 2018 7:00PM The Daily Telegraph

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Reusable shopping bags need to be cleaned. Picture: AAP media_cameraReusable shopping bags need to be cleaned. Picture: AAP


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Shoppers who’ve switched to reusable bags could be risking their health, with ­health professionals warning they’re the perfect breeding places for illness-causing bugs.

Bacteria, such as such as E.coli, and yeast and mould in the bags may lead to contamination* of food.

Pest controllers also expect to be busy as cockroaches enjoy tiny crumbs of food and warm, damp conditions ­inside reusable bags.

Roach in a kitchen media_cameraCockroaches could infest reusable shopping bags. Picture: supplied

Vincent Ho, of Western Sydney University’s School of Medicine, said there was a greater risk of illnesses from reusable bags than ­single-use plastic bags — ­especially if raw meat was mixed with other items.

“It’s important for people to be aware that there is a greater risk of catching a food-borne* illness, especially if there is mixing of raw foods with other ready-to-eat foods,” he said.

“Raw foods should be carried in a separate bag … but just the presence itself of raw meats does increase the contamination risk of a lot of these food-borne illnesses.”

While washing reusable bags “does eliminate* virtually* all the pathogens*”, Dr Ho said research suggested most shoppers forgot to do that.

US surveys found 97 per cent of shoppers did not wash the bags.

Plastic bags a thing of the past media_cameraCooper, Savannah and Kody are shopping with reusable bags, which they will need to turn inside out, wash and dry to keep clean. Picture: AAP

Sydney Reliance Pest Management owner Tommy Docos said he had dealt* with several cockroach infestations* from reusable cloth bags being stored in cupboards.

“All cockroach species like them, but the main species that I’ve seen within those bags when they’re stored in cupboards is German cockroaches, which are a smaller breed,” he said.

“We’re definitely expecting more jobs. If people are going to use those bags more often they’re going to be storing them in their homes which means there’s more chance of cockroaches going to those areas.”

ABC Pest Control director Warren Bailey said he had been called out several times to deal with cockroach infestations in bags from ALDI, which has never given out plastic bags since opening outlets in Australia.

A NSW Food Authority spokeswoman acknowledged reusable bags “can be a source of contamination” and urged shoppers to “make sure you regularly wash them”.


  • Keep raw foods separate from read-to-eat foods.
  • Have one bag just for raw meat. Wash this bag often.
  • Choose sturdy bags that can withstand frequent washing.
  • Turn reusable bags inside out to remove all food after use.
  • Wash reusable bags often and thoroughly.
  • Hang washed bags inside out to dry completely.
Different types of foods media_cameraSeparate raw foods from ready-to-eat foods and keep a separate bag for raw meat. Wash all bags often. Picture: istock


  • contamination: making something unclean
  • food-borne: carried or living in food
  • eliminate: remove
  • virtually: practically all
  • pathogens: bacteria, virus or mould that causes illness
  • dealt: has fixed or solved
  • infestations: lots of insects or creatures, causing damage or illness



  1. What are some things that could be in bags that could cause illness?
  2. What food is particularly dangerous if bags are not washed enough?
  3. What simple thing eliminates virtually all pathogens?
  4. Unwashed bags could also attract what insect?
  5. List the things you need to do to keep your bags clean.

1. Write a letter
In light of this research, is it fair to say that reusable shopping bags should no longer be used and we continue to use single-use plastic bags?

Present your opinion in a letter to the editor of Kids News. Your letter should clearly outline your opinion and your reasons that support it. It should also acknowledge repercussions of this course of action. For example; if you believe we shouldn’t reuse bags, acknowledge how this may affect the environment. Or if you believe we should reuse bags, acknowledge what other steps we may need to take so we don’t make ourselves sick.

The following Kids News articles might provide some evidence or reasons that help support your opinion.

Shocking find in dead whale’s stomach

High hopes for Aussie invention

Turning plastics into something precious

Plastic bag ban taking hold

Time: Allow 40 minutes
Curriculum links: English, Health and Physical Education, Science

2. Extension
Hopefully for the health of the environment, reusable shopping bags are here to stay!

Write a jingle that will help people make the switch to using reusable shopping bags safely.

Ensure your jingle reminds people why using reusable shopping bags is positive for the environment, reminds them to take them into the shop (not leave them at home or in the car) and to keep them clean to prevent the issues mentioned in this article. You want your jingle to be catchy so that people will sing it to themselves and help them develop or improve their use of reusable shopping bags.

Time: Allow 30 minutes
Curriculum links: English, Health and Physical Education, The Arts – Music

After reading the article, with a partner, highlight as many connectives as you can find in pink. Discuss if these are being used as conjunctions, or to join ideas and create flow.

QUESTION: What have you learned about reusable bags since your family started using them? Share your tips for choosing and caring for shopping bags.

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