Good Question: Is your reusable grocery bag carrying germs?

May 21, 2018 07:47 AM

A lot of you are using reusable shopping bags these days, but do they have hidden dangers?

Pat Taney was asked about that for this week's Good Question report.

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The concern was raised by a woman who handles these bags every day. She wants to know if unclean reusable bags could be making her sick.

The woman, a cashier at a local grocery store, asked us to hide her identity. What does she think when she sees one of these bags come down her checkout lane?

"I am just like, ugh," she said. "We tend to see a lot of animal hair, spilled food in it. I have even opened bags to find dead bugs in it."

She believes the bags are not always good to handle.

"I am guessing if you were to test some of those bags you would find more germs than a bathroom," she said.

So we took a well-used reusable bag to Rochester Regional Health and asked Peg Pettis, the manager of the Infections Prevention Department, to test it.

Pettis swabbed the bag and used a germ detecting machine to get the result. The magic number? 300.

"Anything under a reading of 300 is considered safe," Pettis said.

The first swab wasn't bad -- just under 300. Then we swabbed longer, including the bag's handles and the result was 515!

Not horrible, but well above the threshold of what's considered safe. Pettis isn't surprised, after all, these bags carry all sorts of food.

"Raw beef, raw pork, raw chicken," Pettis said. "If you bring home eggs and some of the eggs break, they could have salmonella."

Her recommendation for all shoppers?

"Probably a good idea to periodically wipe out your reusable grocery bags," Pettis said.

She wiped down ours and we re-tested it seconds later. That cleansing brought the number down to 67, which is very acceptable.

"A simple wipe, which took a few seconds, really decreased the amount of organisms in the bag," Pettis said.

The cashier who spoke to us is now hoping others do the same, and if your bag is really in bad shape? 

"Get a brand new reusable bag, which you can find and purchase for 99 cents," she said.

The experts at Rochester Regional Health recommend wiping down your bag after every trip home from the store.

If you have a question you want Pat to answer, e-mail him at


Pat Taney

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