Experts have rubbished claims the impending ban on plastic bags at major supermarkets poses a food poisoning risk.
In less than one week, from June 20, Australians shopping at Woolworths will no longer find single-use plastic bags at the checkout. Coles will follow suit from July 1.
In response, the Food Safety Information Council (FSIC) warned on Wednesday that reusable shopping bags can be a “source of contamination”.
“This ban is great for the environment, but there can be the risk of food poisoning from reusable bags,” it warned.
Crucially, FSIC cautioned against storing reusable bags inside cars.
“It’s best not to store your reusable shopping bags in your car where they can get hot or can come into contact with pets or dirty items, such as sporting equipment and shoes,” it said.
It claimed all would be OK if the bags were kept safely zipped up in a cooler bag out of harm’s way.
‘Nanny state advice’
But hazardous materials expert Trevor Thornton described the warning as “over the top and a bit alarmist”, and said it had the potential to confuse consumers unnecessarily.
“This ‘nanny state’ advice might be politically correct, but some of it is just not practical,” he said.
“It’s conflicting with messages from environmental groups to keep bags in the car.
“If people forget to put the bags in their car they’re going to have to buy more and more every time they shop, which defeats the purpose of removing plastic bags.”
Mr Thornton said he was not aware of any reports of food poisoning from reusable shopping bags.
“If you spill something, especially from meat, then you should probably wash the bag, but not regularly,” he said.
Food consumption and waste expert Jenni Downes agreed, saying there was no reason to think reusables provide a greater health risk.
“I certainly haven’t seen any mention of increased health and safety incidents in reviews of plastic bag ban implementations in other states like South Australia or the ACT,” she said.
“So I don’t believe it is any more likely to occur with the coming bans.”
When The New Daily asked FSIC if there were any reports of food poisoning due to reusable bags, it admitted there is “no specific evidence of food poisoning linked to reusable bag use in Australia”.
“There was a Californian study that found an increase after their plastic bag ban but that ban included small produce bags for fruit and vegetables, whereas our ban is only on single-use shopping bags,” a spokeswoman said.
How to help the environment
Ms Downes said it was important for consumers to remember that reusable bags are only more beneficial for the environment if they are re-used.
She said paper bags need to be re-used four times to be better than single-use plastic bags, heavy plastic bags about five times, green bags about 50 times and cotton 173 times.