Caring for Reusable Bags to Prevent Illness

Reusable grocery bags have become widely used as consumer seek to reduce waste, protect the environment, and save on bag fees. Are reusable bags really safe?

Reusable bag stocked with fresh produce and groceries.
Photo: Canva.com

Reusable grocery bags are a smart choice but may come with some risk. Depending upon how the bags are used and the items they may carry, the bags may also carry germs like E.coli or Salmonella. Meat, poultry juices, and soil from unwashed produce can cause shopping bags to become contaminated. Several studies have revealed just how dirty those bags can be. However, the good news is that washing bags between uses or on a regular basis reduces the chance of contaiming foods with germs that can make one sick.

As concerns about food safety continue to grow, individuals are seeking proactive measures to ensure the quality and cleanliness of their groceries. In response to this need, food test kits have emerged as valuable tools for assessing the presence of contaminants and pathogens in food items. These kits offer a convenient and reliable means of detecting harmful bacteria such as E.coli or Salmonella, providing peace of mind to consumers concerned about the safety of their food.

Moreover, some food test kits go beyond detecting pathogens and offer insights into the nutritional content of food items. By providing nutrient analysis capabilities, these kits empower individuals to make informed decisions about their dietary choices and ensure they are receiving the essential nutrients needed for optimal health. With the ability to perform a nutrients test at home, consumers can take control of their nutrition and make adjustments to their diet as needed, promoting overall well-being and vitality.

Food Smart Colorado offers these tips to keep bags clean and safe:

  • Regularly wash your bags in the washing machine or by hand with hot, soapy water. Dry thoroughly.
  • Store bags in a clean, cool location. Warm temperatures can promote the growth of bacteria.
  • Clean areas where bags are unloaded before and after to reduce cross-contamination. This is especially important if a countertop or kitchen table was used.
  • Do not use reusable grocery bags for other purposes. Bags used for groceries should be used only for food!
  • Put meat, poultry, and fish in disposable plastic bags before placing in a reusable bag to prevent juices from leaking and contaminating the bag or other food items.
  • Use a separate reusable bag for fresh or frozen raw meat, poultry and fish to avoid cross-contamination with produce or ready-to-eat foods.

Good Housekeeping gives this guidance on laundering the various types of reusable bags:

Canvas Bags – toss into the washing machine with hot water and detergent, dry in the drier.

Recycled Plastic or Polyproplylene Bags – wash by hand in warm soapy water and line or air dry; pay attention to inner- and outer-seams.

Insulated Bags – since insulated bags are usually used for raw meats, dairy products, and some produce, these bags need to be cleaned after each use with a disinfecting wipe and allowed to air dry completely before storing. If there was leakage of any kind, the bag should be turned inside out exposing the liner, washed with hot, soapy water and air dry.

Nylon Bags – flip them inside out; wash them by hand or on the gentle washing cycle in warm soapy water, and air dry.

However, no matter how diligent we are with reusable bags, waste disposal remains an inevitable part of daily life. That’s where services like Skips Rochdale come into play, providing convenient solutions for responsible waste management. Whether it’s household clutter, garden trimmings, or construction debris, skip bins offer a hassle-free way to efficiently clear out the mess. Just as we carefully choose eco-friendly options for our shopping bags, selecting the right skip size and waste segregation practices ensures that our discarded items are handled in an environmentally conscious manner.

So, while we strive to minimize our carbon footprint with reusable bags, partnering with services like Skip bins ensures that our overall waste management strategy remains sustainable and efficient.

When was the last time you cleaned your reusable grocery bags?

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Liquid Smoke, that Controversial Condiment

Bottle of Wright's Liquid SmokeLiquid smoke is a condiment that invites controversy.  Barbecue purists roll their eyes and say “no way.”  Health groups consistently voice concern over possible health risks. Yet despite all the ‘nay’, there is a strong ‘yay’ with marketing trends showing that the condiment is growing in popularity as a flavor additive.

Liquid smoke is made by channeling smoke from smoldering woodchips through a condenser that quickly cools the vapors causing them to liquefy.  The water-soluble flavor compounds in the smoke are trapped within the liquid while the insoluble tars and resins are removed by a series of filters.  The results is a clean, all natural smoke-flavored liquid that provides a cookout-like flavor when outdoor grilling isn’t an option.

Ernest H Wright is credited with introducing liquid smoke in 1895.  As a teenager, he worked in a print shop and noticed the liquid dropping from the stove pipe that heated the shop tasted like smoke.  Years later as a pharmacist, he experimented and perfected the process of condensing hot smoke from a wood fire to create Wright’s Liquid Smoke which is still sold today and remains as a pure product, smoke and water.

Unless liquid smoke has added chemicals or ingredients, it is an all-natural product—just smoke suspended in water. (It should be noted that some brands add molasses, vinegar, and other flavorings so read the label to be sure that it is just smoke and water.)  Liquid smoke is used as a flavor additive in a whole host of foods beyond the little bottles on the grocery shelf.  It is the source of the smoky flavor in commercial barbecue sauces, bacon, hot dogs, smoked meats, cheeses, and nuts to name a few.  The process of adding liquid smoke or smoked flavorings to foods is justification for the use of the word “smoke” on package labeling.

What about the health risks?  Smoke, no matter the source, contains cancer-causing chemicals.  Some of those chemicals persist even in the extracts making liquid smoke a potential cancer risk.  Studies have shown that the amount of carcinogenic chemical found in liquid smoke depends on the type of hardwood used and the temperature at which it is burned. Other studies have shown that liquid smoke is less risky than food charred and cooked over smoke. A researcher at NYU found that controlled smoking plus an ensuing filtering process removed most, if not all, of these compounds. Therefore, most experts contend that the concentrations of the carcinogenic molecules in liquid smoke are far too low for any genuine health concerns as one would need to consume far more liquid smoke than most recipes call for to see any effects. Moderation is key with this magical ingredient, so use a light amount (1/4 teaspoon) in dishes for the safest route and if sediment is detected, let it settle and use only the liquid above it.

Liquid smoke has zero calories, zero fat, and most brands are low in sodium (about 10 mg per teaspoon), but it still brings an intense flavor like bacon.  Knowing that we should use it sparingly, it may be brushed on meats to add a depth of flavor or added to foods that generally rely on saturated fats and salt to bring out their flavor; thus it may add flavor for those on restricted diets who find that their food lacks flavor. Just a dash imparts that distinctive meaty, salty flavor that we know and love.   Taste of Home says “there is almost no sauce that wouldn’t benefit from a few drops of liquid smoke.  Adding a few drops to everything from your BBQ sauce to vinaigrette to your ranch dressing will help elevate your burgers, salads, and everything in-between.”

Agree or disagree with the barbecue purists–liquid smoke does not replace true smoke.  However, using a little liquid smoke now and again when smoking or grilling is not possible or to step up the flavor of foods and sauces is an option.

Reviewed 5/2024, mg.

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Washing Produce

Rinse Fresh Fruits and Vegetables social media post from Partnership for Food Safety Education.comEating fresh fruits and vegetables is important for good health. Raw fruits and vegetables contain harmful bacteria (SalmonellaE. coli, and Listeria) that can cause foodborne illness, also known as food poisoning. Fresh or uncooked fruits and vegetables can be made safe and enjoyed without concern if steps are taken to reduce the risk of foodborne illness by properly washing before consuming.

All fresh produce should be rinsed or washed just prior to use in cool, clean, running water.  The exception is produce that has been washed by the producer and the packaging indicates, “pre-washed”. There is no need for any special product to wash produce such as a vegetable or produce wash. Produce exhibiting dirt or having a rough skin can be brushed while running under water. Never wash produce with bleach or soap. Once thoroughly washed, dry with a paper towel to further remove bacteria. Even if the rind or skin is to be removed, washing should not be skipped; bacteria can be carried into the fruit when it is cut into.

In addition to washing produce, washing hands (20 seconds under warm water) before and after washing produce is important to prevent transfering bacteria to the produce prior to washing or in preparation.  Surface areas used for preparing the produce also need to be clean.

Lastly, washing produce before storing may promote bacterial growth and speed up spoilage, so it is best to wait and wash fruits and vegetables just before use.

Source:
Safe Produce.  Partnership for Food Safety Education.
Fruit and Vegetable Safety.  Food Safety.org
Guide to Washing Produce.  Colorado State University Extension.

Reviewed and updated 6/2024, mg.

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Grilling Made Easy with Marinades

Salmon in a soy sauce marinade
Salmon in a soy sauce marinade

My favorite time of the year is finally here – time to grill! Who doesn’t love the aroma of meat and/or vegetables coming from a grill as you walk around your neighborhood? My family made chicken and steak kebabs last weekend, adding a new touch with the addition of peaches and pineapple. Why have I not tried grilling fruit before now? Both the peaches and pineapple were sweet, juicy and succulent!

The use of a marinade is one way to keep your grilled foods juicy and tender. A marinade not only keeps your food from drying out but also can add additional flavor to your dish. It is important to remember food safety when using a marinade. The effects of marinating are hastened by higher temperatures, but so is the danger of bacterial activity. Refrigerate any foods in their marinade if the immersion period indicated is 1 hour or more. Allow about 1/2 cup of marinade for every pound of food to be processed. Cubed meat is soaked just 2-3 hours; a whole 5-10 pound piece, overnight. Sometimes a recipe calls for the marinade to be made into a sauce for the dish. When doing this, it is important to bring it to a boil on the stove to destroy any harmful bacteria before using it on cooked foods. Using these tips will result in safe, tender, and juicy meats, vegetables and fruitsfrom your grill!

BEEF OR PORK MARINADE

Combine:

  • 1 1/2 cups flat beer
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • Stir the oil in slowly, then add
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 2 Tbsp. lemon juice
  • 1 Tbsp. sugar
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 3 cloves

FISH

  • 2 Tbsp. lemon juice
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/8 tsp. pepper

Marinate the meat refrigerated and covered for 2-3 hours. Turn frequently.

CHICKEN

  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 minced clove garlic
  • 1 finely chopped medium-sized onion
  • 1/2 tsp. celery salt
  • 1/2 tsp. coarsely ground black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. dried thyme, tarragon or rosemary

Mix well. Chill several hours in covered jar or dish. Shake well, then pour over the chicken pieces. Chill about 3 hours, turning pieces at least once. Baste during cooking with any excess marinade

REF: Joy of Cooking

Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

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Botulism poisoning–could this really happen?

Clostridium Botulinum bacteria
Clostridium Botulinum bacteria under the microscope.

We often speak to callers about the possibility of botulism poisoning if they don’t process their low acid vegetables properly. But really, what is botulism poisoning and is there really a risk?

Clostridium Botulinum bacteria live in the soil. The vegetables that we harvest and preserve were either grown in the soil or rain water may have splashed dirt up onto them. It is not uncommon for green beans to have dirt on them; this dirt could contain botulism bacteria.

This bacterium grows well in low acid foods (high pH) and the absence of oxygen. These are just the conditions you will find inside a jar of home canned beans (or other low acid vegetables). The heat of canning from a boiling water bath canner is not hot enough to destroy the bacteria if they are present. The “if” is a big part of this equation. We often speak to people who have processed their beans in a boiling water bath canner for years and “nobody has died yet”. However, if the bacterium is present you will not be able to see, smell, or taste it. Likely your first indication of the contamination in your jar will be symptoms of the poisoning. Botulism toxin is a neurotoxin that may first cause gastrointestinal symptoms (nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or constipation). The neurological symptoms will appear in a very short time—blurred or double vision, difficulty in swallowing, breathing, speaking, dryness of the mouth, and paralysis of different involuntary muscles. Death usually results from respiratory failure.  It takes only a very small amount of the toxin to sicken or kill you.

Since the consequences of ingesting the toxin are very high (possible death), even though the frequency is low, it is important to process vegetables according to the directions in tested recipes. Remember that all of the vegetables that you grow in your garden are low acid and must be processed in a pressure canner.

Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

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