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You could be holding more than groceries in that reusable shopping bag

As Seattle’s ban on plastic grocery bags goes into effect on Sunday July 1, some shoppers may not realize that they need to wash their reusable grocery bags or risk contamination with harmful bacteria.

“I’m very careful about what I put in the bag, but I’m not good about washing the bag,” says one Seattle shopper.

That could be a problem for that Seattle shopper, as she and more than half a million others transition to using only reusable bags for their regular trips to the grocery store.

A 2010 outbreak of norovirus in a group of young soccer players visiting Seattle was just recently linked to a reusable grocery bag. According to a study published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases in May, the bag had apparently been set down in a restroom where another girl was getting sick. Later, the group ate Girl Scout Cookies that had been held inside the bag.

Epidemiologist Kimberly Repp told KING-5 News in an interview that it’s a good reminder about proper cleaning.

“When cleaning an area where someone has become ill, to not just think about cleaning the toilet but all the surfaces that could possibly transport to another area. So, the toothbrush, the hairbrush, anything that has been stored in the bathroom should be cleaned,” says Repp.

Norovirus causes about 21 million illnesses, 70 thousand hospitalizations and 800 deaths a year in the United States, according to the study.

As for those reusable bags, a 2010 study by the University of Arizona found more than half of the bags investigated had some sort of bacteria. E.coli was found in 12% of the bags.

Experts say they are not trying to unnecessarily scare the public. They simply want to get people to use proper care to keep reusable bags clean.

Throwing them in the washing machine after each use should do the trick. If they’re made of plastic, wash them with dish soap or at least a disinfecting wipe.

Seattle is not the only local city making the switch. The City of Bainbridge has enacted a ban that will take effect November 1. Issaquah has a plastic bag ban set to take effect in March of next year if an effort to repeal it fails.

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