Reusable Bag E.Coli Scare: Industry Exaggeration?

By David Abraham

This month, researchers at the University of Arizona released a study (PDF) showing that reusable grocery bags might be contaminated with E. Coli and other harmful bacteria.  They conclude that bags must be washed frequently to avoid cross contamination with other items. Sounds like a problem.

However, the source of the $30,000 in funding used to conduct the study came from none other than the American Chemistry Council, a group that represents plastic manufacturers.

I admit that I don’t use reusable bags every time I shop (hey, I’ve got to clean the cat’s litter box somehow). But I try my best and am very skeptical of this study – not to mention its timing – with a plastic bag ban on the verge of being passed in California.

Whether it’s an exaggeration or not, the press is eating it up with a recent google search yielding dozens of articles trumpeting the study. It’s just the sort of thing that could drive people into a gemophobic frenzy. NPR points out that even if e.coli were to be found in reusable bags (after all, 97% of folks never wash them) it is very unlikely to be found in sufficient quantities to make people sick.

Also worth noting, however, is that many reusable bags are also made by the same plastic manufacturers who are represented by the American Chemistry Council.

David Abraham is an MBA candidate at the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland.  He is a founder of the Emerging Markets Association at Smith which seeks to build a greater understanding of free-market opportunities in frontier markets.

The posts on this page are contributed by students from the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business in conjunction with the newly launched Center for Social Value Creation. The center's mission is to develop leaders with a deep sense of individual responsibility and the knowledge to use business as a vehicle for social change. These posts are a way to continue the dialogue outside of the classroom and share the viewpoints of Smith students on the challenges and opportunities of triple bottom line thinking.