FEB 15th UPDATE: The San Francisco Department of Health issued an official memo to expose the limitations of the study. They concluded, "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." Click Here for the full memo.
Over the past couple of weeks numerous stories and LTE's have focused on recent 'research' claiming a link between unwashed reusable bags and deaths in San Francisco. This flawed research builds on the misleading research started in 2010 between University of Arizona and Loma Linda University that was funded by the American Chemistry Council. Consumer Reports quickly dissected and dismissed the 2010 'research' while Stiv Wilson from 5 Gyres Institute nailed the rebuttal for this one.
Consumer Reports started off their story with, "An old saw in the news business is “consider the source” – in other words, take into account not just what you’re hearing, but where it comes from. Which is why we’re not so swayed by a recent report about reusable grocery bags and their potential to make you sick." They went on to conclude that, "A person eating an average bag of salad greens gets more exposure to these bacteria than if they had licked the insides of the dirtiest bag from this study,” says Michael Hansen, senior staff scientist at Consumers Union. “These bacteria can be found lots of places, so no need to go overboard.”
The latest scare fails to provide a direct link between reusable bags and deaths in San Francisco. Correlation does not equal causation - it's a scare tactic at best. More research needs to be done to pipoint the exact causes - you have to take a broader look at all of the possible causes such as food contamination, E. coli from urban runoff, etc. Stiv from 5 Gyres goes on to say, "It's not even a scientific study, it's an economic one, and the associations they draw are purely anecdotal and non-methodological. It's crazy talk at best! Simply put, how can you correlate deaths caused by food born illnesses attributed to reusable bags if the study you yourself cite doesn't show that correlation? This is wag the dog and cynicism at its WORST."
Don't be persuaded by the hype, but DO remember to wash your bag from time to time!