I’m a communication intern at the American Red Cross, but my everyday job is a grocery clerk. I work in Long Beach and almost two years ago the city passed an ordinance outlawing grocery stores from providing single-use plastic bags. At first I found it an inconvenience, but soon became accustomed to using reusable bags. I also felt that the city was doing a good thing for the environment by making customers bring their own.
However, this Saturday something made me reconsider. As I was bagging a customer’s order, I found a nasty little surprise in one of those reusable bags… the kind of surprise that no one wants to find around their groceries, a roach! You can imagine my disgust at finding this unwanted guest at my counter. Trying not to embarrass the customer or gross out anyone else I quickly disposed of the roach and shut down my line to clean the entire checkstand, where all of the remaining customers were completely supportive, even on a busy holiday weekend. In the two years since this ordinance has been in effect, I have never seen anything as gross, and trust me, I’ve seen some really dirty disgusting bags.
When you don’t wash your bags, they start to grow bacteria, which can make you sick as well as others, not to mention the bugs that will be attracted. A study done by Arizona and Loma Linda Universities found that Coliform bacteria, which are suggestive of spilled raw meat, can grow on grocery bags.
However don’t go torch all your dirty bags! There is hope, and here are some easy ways to keep from grossing out your cashier and embarrassing yourself at the grocery store.
- Buy bags that you can put through the washer and drier. The same study found that after washing grocery bags, bacteria levels were reduced to almost nothing.
- If meat or milk spills in a bag that can’t be washed, throw it away. It can start to grow bacteria that can make you sick, and it may start to smell. Many stores have low-cost reusable bags so it is easy to replace them.
- If you haven’t used your bags in awhile, go through them to make sure any unwanted pests haven’t made homes out of them.
I know that this customer probably had no clue that a roach had hitched a ride in his bags, and many people aren’t aware that they should be washing their bags. It just isn’t something that people are used to doing yet. Reusable grocery bags can be a great way to help the environment. Please be considerate and remember to wash your bags regularly. It’s not only a health concern for you but also for everyone else in the grocery store.