Bags for life pose food poisoning risk, warn experts

Free carrier bags were banned in Scotland three years ago
Free carrier bags were banned in Scotland three years ago
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Shoppers should use different coloured reuseable bags for raw and cooked foods - or risk food poisoning, a watchdog has warned.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has warned that bags for life pose a food poisoning risk if they are used to carry raw foods such as meat and fish.

It said that even if there is no leakage from foods, packaging can harbour traces of harmful bacteria that can cause stomach bugs and said shoppers should have separate bags for raw foods, ready-to-eat foods and household items such as detergent.

The food hygiene body added that raw fish and shellfish, loose vegetables with soil on, and eggs can contain germs or have germs on their surface that causes food poisoning.

In an updated post on its website, the FSA said: “Always check your bags for spillages (for example raw meat juices or soil) after every use. If there has been visible spillage, soiling or damage, plastic bags for life should ideally be used for another purpose (where no safety risk will occur) or replaced. Even if there are no obvious spillages or staining after several uses, we would recommend that cotton/fabric bags for life be machine-washed regularly if they have been used for carrying raw items.”

It suggested that bags could be colour coded to ensure that cross contamination does not occur between raw and ready-to-eat foods, while it also said that shoppers should ensure they have enough bags to carry raw foods, ready-to-eat foods and non-food items such as washing powder separately.

Earlier this year, the latest campylobacter survey by the FSS found that that 5.5 per cent of packaging of raw chicken products is contaminated with the food poisoning bug.

Retail consultant Graham Soult said: “Generally, I like to think that shoppers are already savvy enough to pack their bags sensibly, to separate items that shouldn’t come into contact with each other, and to dispose of bags that they can see are obviously soiled or damaged.”

Free carrier bags were banned in Scotland in October 2014, as new laws required supermarkets to charge 5p per single-use plastic bag. A report published by Zero Waste Scotland a year after the ban was introduced found that there was a reduction of 80 per cent of carrier bag use - with around 650 million fewer bags being used in the seven major retailers alone.