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Is Austin's Bag Ban Bad For Your Health?
The City of San Francisco has reported an increase in emergency room visits due to E. coli. Now, a new study is linking the spike to its plastic bag ban, because folks may not be washing their reusable bags properly.
With Austin weeks away from our own bag ban, we wanted to know if something good for the environment could actually be bad for your health?
The study, from the Social Research Network, said reusable grocery bags could put you and your family at risk for E. coli and other harmful bacteria.
Central Texas shoppers told us they wash their bags anywhere from every week to never and usually store them in their cars.
"Practically that's the only place for them," said Jeff Miller, who keeps his bags in a metal tool box in the back of his truck. "If we're going to do it, they've got to be in the vehicles."
The Social Science Research Network said it tested randomly selected reusable bags. We dug a little deeper and found the study may have links to the plastics industry. The report said it found coliform bacteria on more than half and E. coli bacteria on eight percent of the bags.
Shopper, Emily Dale told us she and her roommate recently switched to reusable cloth bags and her roommate was diagnosed with E. coli a few days ago. She said she's not sure how he got sick, but was happy to give us one of her bags to be tested for the bacteria. Other shoppers were curious too.
We took the bags to a science lab at Austin Community College. After a few swabs, the samples were ready to process. 48 hours later, we returned to see the results.
"Well, this bag here, the one that was in the guy's truck for months, absolutely nothing on the plate," lab technician Mike Malone showed us.
He did find bacteria on the other two bags.
"The third bag, the dirty looking one, had two colonies come up," he said while holding a petri dish.
But the colonies were not the kind of bacteria that can make you sick.
"You probably have it on you right now," he said.
Since we tested a small sample, (three bags) we talked with an expert for the best advice on how to care for your reusable bags. The State Health Department recommends washing them after every use. You can throw these cloth ones in the washing machine. Ones lined with plastic need to be sprayed down with diluted bleach. Also, try not to store them in the car, or trunk, because higher temperatures can promote bacteria growth. Don't use the bags for other purposes, like carrying books or gym clothes because that could contaminate your food with more bacteria. And finally, bag fresh and frozen meat or fish in produce bags, which are not affected by the ordinance.
By Katherine Stolp