The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently expanded its website to include a norovirus toolkit advising the ways in which one might contract the killer virus.
Among the public health agency's prescribed practices to stop the spread of the virus: "Practice proper hand hygiene … Take care in the kitchen … Do not prepare food while infected … Clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces after throwing up or having diarrhea … Wash laundry thoroughly."
But nowhere in that exhaustive battery of norovirus dodges was a recommendation to avoid reusable grocery bags. Curious, considering that reusable-but-not-recyclable alternative to single-use plastic bags were recently linked to an unsavory outbreak of norovirus that struck a hapless middle school-aged girls' soccer team.
The proliferation of the virus, which is estimated to cause 21 million of acute cases of gastroenteritis and the deaths of some 200,000 children annually, via the bags is in part the result of an unfortunate merger of form and function.
Successive studies have shown reusable bags to host bacteria like E. coli, salmonella and fecal coliform in addition to norovirus. One study even found the bacteria build-up on reusable bags was 300 percent higher than what is considered a safe level by public health officials.
Researchers at the University of Arizona sampled 84 reusable bags from shoppers in Los Angeles, the most recent major municipality to ban plastic bags, and two additional bag-outlawed cities. The findings were stunning: just over half were contaminated with some form of harmful bacteria while at least twelve percent contained traces of fecal matter. When the contaminated bags were housed in car trunks for two hours, scientists found the number of bacteria was boosted ten-fold.
One recent study found only three out of every twenty Americans wash their reusable grocery bags with any regularity.