In an attempt at saving the environment, are you instead harming yourself?
Keywords:RSB, Reusable shopping bags, Shopping bags, Plastic bags, Cross-contamination, FBI
Background With the increasing shift to reusable shopping bags and the potential ban on plastic bags in Canada in the near future, the question arises as to whether consumers are aware of the proper practices to maintain a safe environment within the bags themselves. The reason for this study was to determine if people are aware of the need to keep specific bags for certain food groups and if they are aware of the need to wash and/or sanitize their reusable shopping bags due to the risk of cross-contamination. Usage of the same bag for various foods (e.g. lettuce and raw meat) without proper sanitation practices can lead to cross-contamination between the foods, and in turn, create a risk of food borne illness. Methods A survey created on Microsoft Office 365 Word was administered through Survey Monkey and distributed on Reddit, various social media, and by email. The survey collection ran for one week in the month of January 2020. The survey consisted of 14 questions and took approximately two to three minutes to complete. Results 225 respondents filled out the online survey. The majority of survey responses were from British Columbia (47%), were female (54%), attended post-secondary institutions (65%) and were between the ages of 20 to 30 (46%). Nearly half of reusable shopping bag users use the same bag to store their fruits/vegetables and their meats, 61% of users have never cleaned their shopping bags, 7% clean them weekly, and only 1% clean their bag after every use. Those who mix produce and meats in the same bag are less likely to wash their RSBs (p = 0.0006). Males are less likely to wash their shopping bags than females (P = 0.009). 97% of survey respondents were not provided with any cleaning instructions upon their purchase of a reusable shopping bag and 93% have never seen educational material presented on RSB cleaning and/or the risk of cross-contamination. 84% believe there is not appropriate awareness and knowledge among the general public on the cleaning requirements of reusable shopping bags and the potential risk of cross-contamination while 10% believe there is sufficient awareness. Not surprisingly, those who were not aware that shopping bags need to be cleaned between uses were less likely to wash them (p = 7.804 x10-19). Conclusion In conclusion: 1. people who are not aware that their RSBs need to be cleaned between uses are also less likely to clean them, 2. males are less likely to clean their reusable shopping bags, 3. bags that contain both fruits/vegetables and meats in the same bags are also less likely to be cleaned, and 4. bags that are used more frequently also cleaned more frequently. Further education on reusable shopping bags is needed along with the transition from plastic bags to reusable shopping bags. At the time of publication, the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic was rapidly spreading throughout the world. In order to prevent fomite spread of disease, British Columbia forbade the use of RSBs in grocery stores, resulting in a proliferation of plastic bags. Time will tell when, and if, RSBs will be permitted for grocery shopping.
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