CLL Support Association
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Could your grocery bag kill you?

Could your grocery bag kill you?

There's been some recent discussion on line lately on whether the move to re-useable grocery bags (you know, like our parents/grandparents used) may be bad for our health. This has escalated this month following a paper examining the increase in C. difficile enterocolitis cases in San Francisco. A Slashdot article by theodp "Are Plastic Bag Bans Making People Sick?" nicely summarises what's been happening:-

"A paper by Wharton's Jonathan Klick and Joshua Wright suggested that San Francisco's eco-friendly ban on plastic bags might actually be killing people. Klick and Wright found that food-borne illnesses in San Francisco increased 46% after the bag ban went into effect in 2007, with no such uptick in neighboring counties. Most likely, the authors concluded, this was due to the fact that people were putting their food into dirty reusable bags and not washing them afterward. But Tomas Aragon, an epidemiologist at UC Berkeley and health officer for the city of San Francisco, begs to differ, arguing that in order to establish a link between the bag ban and illnesses, the authors would have to show that the same people who are using reusable bags are also the ones getting sick. Aragon offers an alternative hypothesis for the recent rise in deaths related to intestinal infections, noting that a large portion of the cases in San Francisco involve C. difficile enterocolitis, a disease that's often coded as food-borne illness in hospitals which has become more common in lots of places since 2005, all around the U.S., Canada, and Europe (for yet-unexplained reasons). 'The increase in San Francisco,' he suggests, 'probably reflects this international increase.'"

The closing comments in a letter from Tomas Aragon, puts it well:

"Finally, the idea that widespread use of reusable bags may cause gastrointestinal infections if they are not regularly cleaned is plausible. However, the hypothesis that there is a significant increase in gastrointestinal foodborne illnesses and deaths due to reusable bags has not been tested, much less demonstrated in this study. It would be a disservice to San Francisco residents and visitors to alarm them by claiming that it has been. It could be useful, however, to remind people to use safe food-handling practices, including maintaining the cleanliness of everything they use to transport, handle, and prepare food."

In May 2009,the state I live in was the first in Australia to ban on lightweight, checkout-style plastic bags, though the even thinner bags for fruit and vegetables are still allowed. I haven't heard of any associated increase in illnesses, though of course plastic bag manufacturers did argue the cleanliness issue prior to the ban being implemented. There have also been complaints by checkout operators about being handed disgustingly dirty bags to pack, so here too, it seems the vast majority of people don't wash or replace their bags when they become soiled. Some supermarkets here offer to put your meat purchases into a plastic bag and I try to remember to grab plastic bags from the fruit and veg section to further enclose my meat purchases.


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9 Replies

Sorry, I couldn't resist. This brings new meaning to the term "Shop until you drop".


This is all getting so ridiculous,why dont we just end it now,well i will not,i still have a lot to do with my life, CLL or no CLL



Interesting, how long before a spray product occupies prime time TV advertising an antibacterial bag freshener Or does it already where you are?

In the UK and parts of Europe we are currently preoccupied with learning what's in the meat, not the bags at the moment. Horse in beef is the latest, another is water and powdered red meat fillers in chicken breasts, This is only coming to light as meat products on the shelf are being genetically tested for horse following Ireland's investigations and discoveries. Revealing that it has been lucrative for organised criminal activity to introduce horse into an extended food chain so it can be relabeled beef. It has then been included in processed meat products. causing several well known national supermarkets to pull some of their own and branded processed meat products from the shelves.

I watched the news yesterday when one leading supermarket chain boss confirmed their own brand products are now tested vigorously So felt contamination risks were now very low,, but only against horse. Other animal are not being tested for. Apparently there is not a health risk, but dinner time has been a challenge for the kids just recently.

We can control how clean our shopping bag is, but how much control is there in what we put in it? I remember last year discussions about the increasing occurrence of treatment resistant bacteria in vegetables too..

Extended food chains and food miles traveled are more easily allowing contaminants to easily be dispersed around the globe and end up in our shopping bag..

It was sad to hear yesterday of the death of Richard Briers, best known for his role in TV's The Good Life. I remember as a child enjoying the show as they converted their garden in suburbia over to food production.

Three years ago I converted my own, this has allowed me to control what goes into a lot of my food and it only has to travel a few yards to the kitchen table now. The recent break in the weather has had me in the garden in my wellies enjoying the exercise. But even that has it's hazards for a CLL patient, the garden is full of microbes that could be a risk.

It seems I can enjoy the good life as long as I add some soap, hand wash, wipes, cleaners, gloves, masks , hats, additional clothing, sunscreen etc to my shopping bag.


Growing your own produce sounds a great move HAIRBEAR, provided you have enough time to garb and ungarb each time you venture out to do some gardening! At least you know what you are eating when you pick it from your own garden - and you can't beat the freshness or the food miles! You've reminded me of the documentary Food Inc,,...

I too loved "The Good Life". All top actors too that each went on to further fame.



It's frosty today so need some extra garb. I am fortunate that I am early CLL and am able to enjoy the garden. It helps keep me moving, and combat the arthritis and heart disease, I can grow those crops high in antioxidants and afford to eat well too. There is something very therapeutic too about the ritual of soil preparation. planting, growing, harvesting and cleaning before it gets to the table and pot.

Good gloves and a wide brimmed hat are my most important tools, later on when the sun gets higher in the sky sunscreen and long sleeves become necessary. when it is dry wearing a mask and damping down soil and compost before working it reduces spore transmission. This is a good time of the year to do this work. The birds are starting to make a little more noise and the blossom is in bud, the garden will soon wake up.

I'm still enjoying the good life.


Hi few of us have access to our own market garden or our own flock of sheep. Most are dependant on supermarkets. I shout at the telly everytime they say that our meat is cheap. Someone somewhere is making money but its not the UK farmers or the UK consumers. Cleanliest is next to godliness our parents and grand parents used to say. Perhaps they had a point.


Guess what,my healthunlocked emails have stopped,i wonder why


Hi brian123 my understanding is that the HU daily did not go out this morning as there were no new question or blog topics posted. I have checked with them all seems OK.

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Take care


I have deleted my earlier general reply below


I too 'potter' in the garden and grow a few veg. I've been cautious, but not overcautious on the protection. Hat during the autumn when we had some sun. Long sleeves. Gloves. I've been using builders gripper gloves asthey protect the fingers and palms and allow the backs of hands to breath. Wife helped with the compost.

On the bag front i get a bit annoyed with the types of comments in the article at times. We'd used supermarket bags like most for several years but converted back to our own a couple of yeas ago. The bags we use are 'string bags' and stretch significantly as you put things in them. As they are mainly air i think they are a good compromise.



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