Letter From the Editor: Those government-imposed grocery bags are a likely food safety hazard


Consumer Reports publishes “On Health,” a very fine newsletter with tips on staying healthy.  One of the articles this month is “9 Surprising Ways to Prevent Food Poisoning.”

One of the nine caught my eye: “Wash your grocery bags.”

Wow! I thought. It has come down to this.  Food safety is now the consumer’s responsibility for the grocery store.

As a Colorado resident, I’ve been living with this since 2021, when our state legislature passed HB21-116 concerning the management of plastic products. This bill replaced “single-use” plastic carryout bags and expanded polystyrene food containers. It authorizes local governments to enforce violations and impose civil penalties. 

First, I never understood how politicians get away with calling those bags “single use.”   Everybody used them at least a second time to clean up after a dog and for other uses when you had a mess to deal with. There is now more doggie-do in the parks, and on the lawns, I walk through than I’ve ever seen.  

However, the real problem is how complicated HB21-116 has made life for Colorado. A series of dates has made us a full-enforcement state for this silliness.

The act has prohibited stores and retail food establishments, since Jan. 1 this year from providing single-use plastic carryout bags to customers, except that retail food establishments that are restaurants and small stores that operate solely in Colorado and have three or fewer locations may provide single-use plastic carryout bags.

The phase-in permitted between Jan. 1, 2023, and Jan. 1, 2024, for a store to furnish a recycled paper carryout bag or a single-use plastic carryout bag to a customer at the point of sale if the customer paid a fee of 10 cents per bag or a higher fee adopted by the municipality or county in which the store is located.

Since Jan. 1 this year a store may furnish only a recycled paper carryout bag to a customer at the point of sale at a fee of 10 cents per bag or a higher fee imposed by the municipality or county in which the store is located.

Millions are being collected from these bag fees, which are shared for whatever between the state and its local governments.

The point is that Colorado. Has gone “Full Monty”  with these dictates. And it’s complicated every run to the grocery store. In the past, you might make a quick stop after work, but you don’t do it without the grocery bags in your car. It’s a constant task moving the bags around.   And I am confident of this: you’re making more trips and buying less.

But let’s talk about food safety, which has been the forgotten step-child of this imposed system.  “On Health” says, “Wash your grocery bags: Reusable totes are good for the environment, but when is the lost time you tossed them in the wash?  The problem is that juices from raw meat, poultry and fish may spread in the bags and contaminate them. Amy Johnston says to wash nylon and insulated bags by hand with warm water and soap. Or you can use a sanitizing wipe inside an insulated bag.  Cloth and polypropylene bags can go into the washing machine in a gentle cycle.  To prevent contamination, use a separate bag for meat and fish.” 

Good advice, as always, from Consumer Reports, but it’s the bags owned by the guy in front of me that I am noticing. A year into this experiment, the other guy’s bags are looking pretty gnarly

We need to worry about all those gnarly bags over time and what happens when this system causes foodborne illness. Are the states that are so fancy around these schemes going to use some of their millions to pay for the medical bills of the victims of these foodborne illnesses?

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News,click here)

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