Bags to keep produce fresh

Table of Contents

In the bag: the best alternatives to single-use plastic bags

Many supermarkets in NSW have now banned single-use plastic shopping bags.

The City of Sydney wants to leave nothing to waste. We’re excited that major grocery chains have finally moved away from single-use plastic shopping bags.

For many consumers, the ban has meant having to think about what bags they’ll bring when they shop.

Before you buy up a heap of the polypropylene reusable green bags you find at checkouts, you should know they are not necessarily as green as you think.

The best alternative to plastic green bags

The most important thing that will make a bag a better option is using it more than once.

But there are some other things that can make it a more sustainable choice too.

Every material has a different footprint when it comes to energy and water consumption, litter impacts and recyclability. Some are better than others.

Here’s the low down on reusable shopping bags, rated from best to worst.

Jute or hessian

Jute or hessian bags are absolutely the best option. They are made from durable and naturally biodegradable vegetable fibres. Jute is also a renewable resource and the plants sequester carbon.

When a jute bag comes to the end of its life, add it to the compost heap, where it will eventually break down. Alternatively, make sure you recycle it with textiles to maximise usage.

Canvas or calico

Cotton bags can be used hundreds of times. They’re washable, and biodegradable – you can even cut them up and add them to your compost.

When buying a canvas or calico bag look for organic cotton options. Cotton farming can have a large water footprint so to offset this you also want to make sure your product is made to last.

Reusable paper

Paper bags can be recycled or composted but they generally only last a few shopping trips so they aren’t that reusable.

To minimise the environmental footprint of paper bags, consider whether it’s made from recycled content and printed with environmentally-friendly dyes.

Polypropylene ‘green’ bag

These bags are not as innocent as you might think. Made from polypropylene, a by-product of oil refining, this is a fossil fuel-based plastic and therefore made from a non-renewable resource. Green bags are used for 2 years on average. When it comes to end of life, you should know that they can be recycled with other soft plastics at a REDcycle bin.

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Help! I keep forgetting my bags

You have your bags – but now you need to make sure you use them!

It may seem simple but it can be easy to forget in the first few weeks until you make a new habit. If you forget your bags, you do have options. You could always look for a cardboard box, place items in your backpack or carry with your hands if you’re only buying a few things. You’ll be surprised how resourceful you can be!

If you forget your bag, you might be lucky enough to have a Boomerang Bag box at your local store. It lets you borrow a bag made from recycled materials by local volunteers. Don’t have one at your local store? Check out the Boomerang Bag community at Newtown for tips on how to start your own.

Tips to remember your reusable bag

Have a few bags in convenient places such as your handbag, the back of the door, in the boot of your car, and fold one up to stash in your drawer at work. The first item on your shopping list could be “Bring shopping bags”, as a reminder before you arrive at the shops. Talking about this change with your community will help you reinforce the habit.

You may want to start saying “no bag, thanks” when you shop at other stores too.

Now that you’ve mastered shopping without plastic bags, take the next step and rid your life of another ubiquitous source of plastic at home: bin liners. We’ve looked into the alternatives.

Sustainability Guide for Retail: Plastic Bag Alternatives

Stop the pollution of our land and water

Plastic bags are so lightweight that they can travel long distances through the wind and water. They can get caught in trees and fences, clog waterways, and eventually make their way into the oceans or streets.

Stop using products made from non-renewable resources

Most plastic bags are made of polyethylene, which is a substance that is made from crude oil refining and natural gas processing. Oil and natural gas are non-renewable, fossil fuel-based resources, meaning that when they are extracted and produced, they emit greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. Production of plastic bags is energy intensive – and for no reason considering the typical useful life of a plastic bag is about 12 minutes.

Stop harming wildlife

The “save the turtles” campaign has become a phenomenon worldwide, and specifically related to the use of plastic bags (as well as plastic straws). Plastic bags that are recycled incorrectly and land in the ocean end up floating around and resembling jellyfish. Jellyfish are a main food source for sea turtles, meaning that the turtles inhale the plastic thinking it is food. When a marine animal digests plastic, it can cause health issues such as infections, painful intestinal blockage, starvation or death by suffocation.

Use eco-friendly products that decompose

Plastic bags are made of resistant, synthetic polymers that can take thousands of years until they completely degrade. Many times, plastic bags break down into microscopic pieces that get deposited into soils or contaminate waterways.

It’s easy and economical to use alternatives

Reusable shopping bags are a great alternative for customers and for the environment. Most of the time they are more durable than plastic or paper bags and they can be reused as many times as needed over the course of many years. Many companies have even started to sell reusable bags with designs on them, making them better looking and more fashionable while at the same time building the brand.

Customers demand non-plastic alternatives

Because so many companies have made the switch, more and more people have started using reusable bags all over the world. If your company still uses plastic bags, customers may not want to shop with a company that will appear behind the times, not eco-friendly and not considerate of the environment.

If you think you might be using too much plastic, there’s a good chance much of it is coming from your weekly trip to the grocery store. Stocking up on fruits, veggies, and other produce usually means tearing off a few plastic baggies (and hurting the environment) — but if you’re looking to make a change, reusable produce bags are an easy solution.

Because produce bags don’t keep food cold, you should head straight home after grocery shopping for anything that needs refrigeration — especially in the summer. That’s because the FDA says perishables need to consistently stay below 40°F, and there’s just a 2-hour window after purchasing them that shortens to one hour in temperatures above 90°F.

If you plan on staying out after shopping, Betty Gold, senior editor and product analyst at the Good Housekeeping Institute’s Kitchen Appliances & Technology Lab, recommends trying PackIt’s freezable lunch bags (they come in large sizes, too!).

These are the best reusable produce bags to buy in 2019:

Amazon’s Choice: Purifyou Reusable Mesh Produce Bags
Best Value: Natural Home Reusable Produce Bags
Best for Grains and Nuts: Simple Ecology Reusable Organic Muslin Produce Bags
Best for Keeping Food Cold: PackIt Freezable Picnic Bag
Recycled Plastic: ChicoBag Reusable Produce Bag Starter Kit
Color-Coded Tags: Flip and Tumble Reusable Produce Bags
Stylish: IKEA KUNGSFORS Net Produce Bags

Get more details on each pick below!

When it comes to tackling single-use plastic bags, it isn’t just plastic shopping bags that we want to be replacing with better, reusable alternatives. Plastic produce bags (the extremely thin, colourless, clear bags we see in the fruit and veg aisles at supermarkets) are just as problematic – difficult to recycle, very difficult to reuse and a huge contributor to litter.

Yet the conversation always seems to be around shopping bags, and the produce bags are left out.

Which is a tragedy! There are just as many solutions for replacing single-use produce bags with reusables as there are for shopping bags. Yet it’s something that isn’t on many people’s radar when they are starting out.

It certainly wasn’t on mine.

Fortunately, it is now. I want to share some of the alternatives to single-use plastic produce bags, the pros and cons of different options, as well as a few things you may like to consider.

Reusable Produce Bags – Some Initial Things to Consider

There are plenty of options with reusable produce bags. Here’s a few things to consider:

Homemade versus Purchased

Homemade is always cheaper, and there’s the option to choose the exact size that you need. If you want bags that last and don’t need to be mended continually, an overlocker generally produces better (longer-lasting) results than a regular sewing machine.

The flipside of homemade is needing access to a sewing machine, and knowing how to sew.

If you do know how to sew, produce bags make great gifts.

Second-Hand Fabrics

Second-hand fabric is an option for making reusable produce bags, and ready-made produce bags that used second-hand fabric are also available. Fabric includes old net curtains, tablecloths, sheets and old bedding. Choose a fabric that is machine washable and can go through a hot wash (rather than the handwash cycle).

Although mosquito netting seems ideal for produce bags, most mosquito nets are impregnated with pesticides, so not desirable for use with food.

Choosing the Fabric Type

Different fabrics have different properties. Mesh or net bags are lightweight and see-through, but are rarely made of natural fibres. They’re also not suitable for flour and fine powders.

Cotton cloth is natural but not see-through, and is slightly heavier. (Not all stores have the ability to take off the weight of the bag on the scales, so heavy bags will cost more.) Not being transparent will slow down the checkout operators, so be mindful of using too many of these bags on a busy day.

In practice, it can be useful to have different types for different things.

Reusable Product Bags – Different Options

Personally, I have a combination of homemade and purchased reusable produce bags, and made of different materials.

As much as I recommend making do and using what we have where possible, I also know that sometimes we need shortcuts.

If sewing if definitely not your thing (and you don’t have a relative or friend to persuade to do it for you!) then here are some ready-made solutions.

Repurposed Fabric Produce Bags

If you haven’t heard of it before, Etsy is an online marketplace where people who know how to make things sell these things to those of us who do not (or do not have the time). There are plenty of sellers on the platform who make reusable produce bags out of old curtains and tablecloths.

If the second-hand approach appeals to you but you just don’t have the time or inclination, I’d recommend looking on Etsy for reusable produce bags made of upcycled fabric. There’s no one seller I recommend, instead I’d suggest browsing and finding the seller that is closest to your home to minimise the packaging and transport footprint.

(If you’re in Perth, I did get a set of bags made from upcycled curtains from Matilda (pictured above) who has a small enterprise called Re-Bag It.)

Recycled PET Plastic Mesh Bags

Some people don’t love the idea of going plastic-free and then buying reusables made of plastic. When I first went plastic-free back in 2012 I was the same. But then I looked into it a little more and adjusted my view.

If we stopped using plastic today, and didn’t make anything else made of plastic, there is still a huge amount of plastic already in existence. Legacy plastic, I call it. From a resource perspective, it makes sense to be using this to make resources rather than leaving it somewhere to sit for all eternity.

PET is the plastic that water bottles is made from. It’s hard wearing and durable. The PET plastic bottles can be recycled into a mesh that is used to make reusable produce bags. These bags have a much lower carbon footprint than other “new” bags because they are made from 100% recycled material.

I have a set of Onya Life bags that I purchased for my first Plastic Free July back in 2012. They may not be as white as they were when I purchased them, but they function as good as new. (Which cannot be said for my biodegradable ones, which have, well, biodegraded and needed some stitching up).

Mesh bags are great for fruit and vegetables, loose salad leaves (the produce can be washed in the bag) and loose bread rolls.

Cotton Produce Bags

Cotton bags are great for all the things that mesh bags aren’t: powders and flours. I have a set made out of an old bed sheet. The advantage of these is that they can be repaired easily, and composted at the end of their life.

It’s possible to buy new cotton reusable produce bags: I’d recommend looking at your local bulk store as they will often stock them (I know that my local store The Source Bulk Foods has a range of cotton reusable produce bags).

Alternatively these are easily found online. I’d always recommend supporting a local brick-and-mortar store where you can, but if this isn’t an option, Biome (which is an Australian online eco store) has a range of organic cotton bags, or if you’re further afield here’s a list of independent online plastic-free and zero waste stores.

Bulk Reusable Food Bags

These reusable produce bags are a fairly new idea, and are designed for bulk store shopping (as opposed to fruit and veg shopping). Whilst reusable produce bags are very easy to transport, they aren’t ideal for storing food.

Onya Life launched these bulk bags this year (made of recycled PET, which I talked about above) as a lightweight alternative to glass jars. They can be labelled and are suitable for food storage.

They are not something I’ve used, but I think they are a great alternative for those of us who don’t want to carry huge amounts of glass jars on our shopping trips, or have to decant everything into said glass jars when we get home.

Other Options: Making Do

Before rushing out and buying anything new, have a think about what you might already have at home. Many bulk stores accept glass jars for refilling, so consider taking jars rather than bags, if that is practical. A pillowcase makes an excellent cotton bread bag. Laundry bags are a mesh alternative to mesh produce bags – and they are definitely machine washable.

If you do decide to buy something, just be sure that it is something that you will use. Reusables that sit in the back of the cupboard are not a good use of resources!

The best reusables are the ones you use often.

Now I’d love to hear from you! What reusable options do you use? Do you have one preference, or do you use a combination? If you sew, do you have fabric types you recommend and any to avoid? Are there any other alternatives or DIY hacks that you can suggest? Please share you thought in the comments below!

Disclaimer: this post contains some affiliate links which means if you click a link and choose to purchase a product, I may be compensated a small amount at no extra cost to you. I only ever recommend products I have used, companies I trust or those that are regularly recommended to me by you, my readers. Making do and buying second-hand are always my first recommendations.

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After a visit to the supermarket, a pack of plastic bags in the trash can made me stop for a moment; such a heap is thrown away at each house nearby and, even worse, in the whole country. After some research, I found out that every minute, people all over the world discard approximately 1 million plastic bags. The figure is terrifying, especially if I mention that only a small amount of them is recycled because it’s too expensive and plastic certainly isn’t biodegradable. But reusable produce bags especially the ones made from cotton can be very good substitute for these plastic bags and the good thing about them is that they are washable as well.

The whole thing is rather odd: we use these bags, paper or plastic, just to bring something home and then throw them away. Why do this each time, if we can use the same bag every day? The logic is simple and the benefits of reusable bags are enormous. That’s what everyone can actually do instead of talking passionately about “green” issues.

Comparison Chart of reusable produce bags

Picture Name No of bags Price Rating
Reusable Produce Bags Made from Organic Cotton 6 $ 5.0
Augbunny 100% Cotton Durable Drawstring Muslin Produce Bags 6 $$ 4.9
Green Home Habits Reusable Produce Bags 5 $$$ 4.9
Owl Trail Organic Muslin Cotton Reusable Produce Bags 6 $$$ 4.8
Magnolia Organics Reusable Organic Produce Bag 5 $ 4.8
Simple Ecology Organic Cotton Muslin Produce Bag 6 $$$ 4.5
The Original Eco Friendly Washable and Reusable Produce Bags 5 $ 4.5

Independent Reviews of reusable and washable produce bags available in the market

1. Reusable Produce Bags Made from 100% Organic Cotton by Organic Cotton Mart – Cotton Mesh Produce Bags – The Best & Highly Recommended

Enter your email address below and receive a 10% off discount code in your email for the above organic cotton mesh produce bag.

Or purchase directly without a coupon.

Buy now. Free shipping to USA & Canada

#1 on our list is reusable and washable 100% organic cotton produce bags. Organic Cotton Mart’s reusable produce bags are the simplest in design: they are natural in color and have a drawstring. It’s made out of 100% organic cotton. Personally, I would pay to know that the item is free of pesticides and processing chemicals. Adding to the fact that these bags are also designed to store food, it’s even more important for them not to contain any chemicals. Producers suggest dampening the fabric to preserve greens or vegetables in the fridge so that they will stay fresh and crispy. As to the size of the bag, you can choose from different sets of XS, S, M, L, and XL, but I’ve chosen a set of S, M, and L as the most all-purpose one. It contains two bags of each size totaling 6 in total.

The reviewers say these bags are definitely better than plastic. You can put anything in them, even flour, and be sure the product is safe. A slight drawback is the tare weight indicated inside the bag, which may lead to confusion at the checkout. Remember that the weight of the bag has to be subtracted.

The material is 100% organic cotton but what I like even more is the size: the L-sized one is 12 by 15 inches. They also have an X-Large version which is 14 by 18 inches and that’s the largest cotton bag I’ve managed to find. There are also the XS, S and M sizes for smaller items and they all come in packs of 3 in the same size. Stuff them with plenty of fruits or wet greens and the products will be well preserved in your refrigerator.

All the reviews for this product are positive as well, indicating it’s one of the best alternatives to plastic packs available. Customers store bulk products, groceries and even clothes in them. You can easily wash and dry the bags in the washing machine although shrinkage is possible. Despite the relatively high price, people buy these reusable bags and are pleased with the good quality.

2. Reusable Produce Bags 5 Pack by Green Home Habits

These are stylish mesh bags that come in a set of 3 or 5 (it’s up to you to choose) with a bonus of a muslin cotton bag for flour, sugar, salt, or other bulk substances. The cotton they are made of is produced according to GOTS so you can be sure of their quality. The bags are well sewn and strong drawstrings close them safely. Due to the fact that they are made of mesh material, the cashier won’t have to rummage inside because everything is easily seen through the fabric. It’s hard to find organic cotton mesh bags, so this is one of the few alternatives.

There’s not a single negative review, so it seems like everybody enjoys his or her purchase. The bags look good, adjust to the shape of products put into them, and may be used for multiple purposes. There’s also a cute tree design on the muslin cotton bag indicating you’re an environmentalist and encouraging you to use the bag each time you go shopping.

3. Owl Trail Reusable Produce Bags 6 Pack

The pack includes 6 bags: 2 large (16 by 12 inches), 2 medium (12 by 8 inches), and 2 small (6 by 10 inches) and that’s the only set of sizes. However, you still have an opportunity to choose. It’s nice the material is muslin cotton, which makes the bags safe and eco-friendly. However, producers advise to air-dry them after washing in the machine so that the material isn’t damaged.

Those who already use Owl Trail produce bags claim they are an excellent replacement for plastic packages. The bags simply serve their purpose and make customers happy. The design is unassuming but attractive, so people in the shops and farmers’ markets will wonder where they can get such nice bags as well. Owl Trail bags will certainly make you proud of being environmentally friendly! What I didn’t like about them is that there’s no tare weight label on them, so this will add a bit to your expenses when you get weighed produce.

4. Magnolia Organics Reusable Produce Bags 5 Set

Magnolia bags don’t seem to be extremely popular with customers, but their qualities are rather convincing. 100% certified cotton with good breathability would certainly make for perfect food transporting and preservation. They look unpretentious with a smart tree design and have a simple drawstring closure. It’s a 5-bag set and each package is sized 10 by 12 inches. They’re not large but will do for nuts, herbs, or up to 6 apples.

There aren’t many reviews but the majority are positive. Customers are satisfied with its quality and sturdiness. One of the best traits about them is that they are easily machine-washed, unlike the previous items. However, it’s better to hang them up to dry because the manufacturers warn they may shrink a little after the first wash. People love the tree design, so I would consider these bags as a great present for an environmentally concerned friend.

5. Simple Ecology Produce Bag

These bags are on #5 of our list of best 6 and they will suit even the most conscientious environmentalist: they are made of GOTS-certified (Global Organic Textile Standards) cotton but these bags are a bit more expensive than our best washable produce bags which are also made of 100% organic cotton.

6. Washable and Reusable Produce Bags By Naturally ConsciousTM

When shopping in the produce market, these bags are a great no-waste alternative to plastic single-use ones. They are better (but obviously not the best, the best is this one) than many washable produce bags. The manufacturers warn it’s better to hand-wash them in warm water so that the color won’t fade. They come in a set of 5, the size of each bag is 12 by 14 inches. That’s larger than most plastic bags offered in stores, and enough to pack leafy vegetables, bananas or dry snacks. You can put a lot inside and they won’t tear due to their high durability. Another advantage is multi-usability: you can pack your travel or hobby items, shoes, medicine, cosmetics, or accessories.

The customers claim these bags will last for ages. They are so sturdy and solid that they seem heavy. Everyone agrees that Naturally Conscious bags appear to be well-made and easy to wash and dry. The color isn’t just an aesthetic detail – it helps to identify what you’ve put inside because you can’t see through the material. Some complain that their favorite bags lost their color after washing, so you’ve got to be careful with it.

5 Reasons Why I Switched to Reusable Produce Bags and especially cotton produce bags

  1. Plastic bags are one of the main pollutants.

When it comes to dumps, a plastic bag can easily fly away. Consequently, we see them hanging on trees and floating along the coastlines. Due to their light weight, plastic bags “migrate” even to the Arctic Circle and the Falkland Islands.

  1. They kill sea animals.

I was shocked at the numbers of dolphins, whales, and turtles that die because they mistake plastic waste for food. Almost one million birds each year get entangled in plastic bags and die as well. Although there are companies responsible for cleaning coastlines, it’s we ourselves who must stop it.

  1. Paper ones are no better.

If you consider paper bags more environmentally friendly because they are biodegradable, you are wrong. The amount of energy, wood, and water necessary for their production outweigh all the pros of their decomposability.

  1. Reusable produce bags save money.

They prove to be cheaper in the long run, especially if you use them often. By the way, some supermarkets offer discounts if you come with your own reusable bag.

  1. It’s a fashion trend now.

Reusable bags come in a variety of colors and shapes so you can always choose one that suits you. Being an environmentalist is so fashionable today that famous designers have started creating stylish shopping bags to meet the needs of their customers!

Choosing the Safest Type of Washable Produce Bags

The variety of different kinds of bags on the market is so great that it’s easy to get lost. I suggest dividing all of them into three groups to find out those that suit the purpose best – the “greenest” and safest ones.

  1. Fabric bags.

Fabric bags were the first to offer reusability. They are considered organic and thus environmentally friendly, though it’s not that simple. Cotton, calico, hemp and jute bags pose some threats to the environment as any other bag produced. For example, cotton production stands for 16% of the total pesticides use in the world, plus lots of water is necessary. Organic cotton is better since it grows without pesticides and fertilizers. Calico bags require less processing and are cheaper. Hemp and jute aren’t very popular because they are imported. However, all fabric bags are durable, biodegradable, and can be easily machine-washed.

  1. Plastic reusable produce bags.

The materials of plastic bags also vary significantly. They can be made of PET (polyethylene terephthalate), PP (polypropylene), polyethylene, and nylon. PET looks like fabric but is made of recycled plastic bottles, so that’s a good thing. All plastic bags are lightweight and sturdy, but none of them is biodegradable and the production of each plastic item leads to greenhouse gas emissions. Here is also our review of Debbie Meyer Green Bags.

  1. Paper bags.

Many shops offer paper bags, which can be used many times. They are biodegradable and recyclable but not durable at all. Once they get wet, it’s time to throw them away. I wouldn’t consider them the best option but the point is that you can use the cheapest paper bag several times. Moreover, they often have nice prints!

Each of the types has its advantages and disadvantages but the most important thing is that they are reusable. To benefit the environment you’ll have to use such a bag for a hundred times, but it’s worth doing. Reusability has its threats, so to eliminate the risk of food poisoning I would recommend washing any of them after each visit to the supermarket of groceries. Since cotton bags are strong, the most machine-wash-friendly, and are free of dangerous chemical evaporation, I prefer them to plastic and paper ones.

However, the next step is to choose an item that will help you contribute to environmental protection. It has to be comfortable, safe, and of good quality for you not to regret the purchase. I’ve chosen 6 of the “greenest” and most popular reusable bags on Amazon that have these features.

To Sum Up

Taking all the options above into account, I would recommend Simple Ecology reusable produce bags since they possess all the necessary eco-features and are popular with customers. I paid lots of attention to the GOTS-certified cotton fabric because it’s a guarantee of high quality and safety, both to the food and the environment. Nevertheless, the other options aren’t bad at all, though the 100% positive reviews for the last two items seemed pretty suspicious to me.

Actually, the only thing that matters is the decision to turn to reusable bags, however primitive it may sound. Remember that taking this small step is the beginning of a new way to a healthy and clean planet.

How Gross Is It to Not Use Plastic Produce Bags at the Grocery Store?

With cities like Chicago implementing a 7-cent tax on plastic and paper bags, and metro areas from Boston to San Francisco imposing a citywide ban on plastic bags, there’s a nationwide movement toward eliminating single-use plastics. It’s become nearly shameful to show up at Whole Foods without an armful of reusable tote bags in which to carry your groceries home. But one thing that hasn’t gone away (yet) are the rolls of thin plastic produce bags found in supermarkets, designed to contain everything from fruits and vegetables to meats, baked goods and bulk items. After all, they’re a necessity, right?

In January, the New York Times reported that the Italian government had banned the use of plastic produce bags, instead swapping in eco-friendly, biodegradable and compostable alternatives—and charging 1 to 3 cents each. Met with outrage from consumers, Italy’s Health Ministry declared consumers could bring their own bags from home, provided they’d never been used, citing risk of bacterial contamination. (In hindsight, that seems a little misguided.)

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Right now, however, U.S. supermarkets don’t have big plans to eliminate or swap out plastic produce bags (except for Kroger, which pledged in August to eliminate all plastic bags from its nearly 2,800 stores by 2025)—perhaps for one big reason.

“The produce bags in our stores provide guests a convenient and effective means of protecting fresh produce from being introduced to bacteria that may be present in a shopping cart, on the checkout register conveyor or within a reusable shopping bag,” says Vic Savanello, vice president of produce for The Fresh Market, a grocery chain with more than 150 locations around the country.

If you haven’t already heard, the level of bacteria found in most grocery stores is pretty gross. A study from tote-bag company Reuse This Bag found that traditional grocery store produce contains about 1,940 colony-forming units per square inch (that’s 746 times more bacteria than a car steering wheel), and budget grocery store produce was is way worse, containing around 5.6 million CFU/square inch. Even “upscale” grocery stores had really dirty produce: 3.3 million CFU/square inch (more than 11 times what you’d find on a pet’s food bowl—yuck!).

Add in even more disgusting stats on bacteria from cart handles and refrigerator case doors, and you’ll practically want to shop in gloves to protect yourself. (Read: You might want to start using those antibacterial wipes often offered near the cart bays, if you’re not already.)

Consider the typical path of, say, a red pepper you’re buying for your dinner recipe. The more times the pepper is touched, the more germs it collects. So you might pick up the pepper and place it in your cart, then touch it again to put it on the conveyor belt at checkout. Then the cashier handles it again to weigh it, setting it down on a produce scale that’s also very dirty. It’s handled yet again being put into a bag to transfer it home, and if that’s a reusable tote bag that you haven’t washed in awhile, it’s picking up even more bacteria there—especially if you’ve used it to transport extra-germy items like raw meats in the past. And that’s nothing to say about how many times the pepper was handled before it even got to the display in the store (even though the USDA and FDA both have rigorous rules regarding produce safety).

While plastic produce bags may save you from bacteria in a few steps along the way, they won’t help you eliminate germs. Any way you look at it, the hard-and-fast truth is that before consuming that pepper, or any produce, you need to wash it—and wash it well.

The FDA recommends washing your hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds before even starting to prep produce, then rinsing the produce under running water before peeling or cutting the item—even if you aren’t going to consume the peel, like a lemon or orange—so bacteria aren’t transferred as you cut into it. A clean vegetable brush may be used to scrub firm produce, like melons or carrots, and you should always dry produce with a clean cloth or paper towel to further reduce bacteria. Furthermore, the FDA advises discarding the outermost leaves of a head of lettuce or cabbage.

Cutting down on use of plastic bags, even the thin ones used for produce, has a more positive impact on the environment. Yet overall, using plastic produce bags offered at grocery stores (or bringing your own) still makes for a less messy shopping experience.

“ helps improve the overall cleanliness of the shopping environment,” says Savanello, “preventing produce from dripping or breaking in the shopping cart or at the register.”

Less drips from dirty fruits or raw meats in both carts and at the register is a good thing for all shoppers, whether they’re using produce bags or not. The bottom line: not using produce bags might introduce your products to more germs, but you’re going to wash them anyway.

Discount Plastic Bags

  • Plastic Bags |
    • Industrial Bags
      • Flat Poly Bags
      • Flat Poly Bags on Rolls
      • Gusseted Poly Bags
      • Gusseted Poly Bags on Rolls
      • Heavy Duty Zip Top Bags
      • Stand Up Pouches w/ Zip Top
      • Poly Tubing
      • Amber Poly Bags UV Resistant
      • Clear Poly Drawstring Bags
      • Dry Cleaning Garment Bags
      • Heat Sealers
      • Hotel Laundry Bags
      • Ice Bags
      • Leak Proof Fish Bags
      • Furniture Bags
      • Mattress Bags
        • 1.5 Mil Mattress Bags
        • 3 Mil Mattress Bags
        • 4 Mil Mattress Bags
        • Institutional 1.1 Mil Mattress Bags
      • Lip-n-Tape Self Sealing Bags
      • Poly Mailers & Shipping Supplies
      • Poly Sheets & Tarps
      • Pre Opened Bags on a Roll
      • PVC Shrink Film
      • Shrink, Stretch and Wrap Film
      • Static Control Products
      • Tapes & Tape Dispensers
      • Trash Bags & Can Liners
      • Twist Ties & Closures
      • Wicketed Poly Bags
      • Packaging Labels
    • Food Bags
      • Polypropylene Bags
      • Flat Poly Bags
      • Flat Poly Bags on Rolls
      • Gusseted Poly Bags
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Minneapolis mom Theresa Carter has been a frequent Target customer for years, but seeing how many plastic bags leave the retailer’s stores every day left her feeling concerned for the environment.

“There’s a huge impact, because plastic never really goes away. It just breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces called microplastics, and those end up everywhere,” she said.

On Thursday, Carter and a group of other Target customers will present the retailer with a petition signed by more than 450,000 people calling for the elimination of plastic bags in stores.

“The response to it has been pretty amazing. I think people just really care about this issue,” she said, adding that signatures have poured in from all 50 states.

Target responded to a request for comment with a statement that it has in place “sustainable packaging goals, plastic bags that are now made with 40 percent recycled content, a 25-year commitment to recycling plastic garment hangers.” The company also says for almost a decade it has had “recycling kiosks at the front of our stores, including ones for plastic bags.”

The U.S. each year generates more than 4 million tons of plastic bags, sacks and wraps, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Only about 13 percent of that plastic is recycled.

The customer petition follows recent votes in two Minnesota cities — Minneapolis and Duluth — to require retailers to charge customers for disposable bags.

Carter said fees are more effective than incentives when it comes to getting shoppers to change their behavior. Target gives customers a 5-cent credit for each reusable bag they use, but Carter said if Target opts not to end plastic bag use in its stores, the retailer would be better off charging a meaningful fee.

Grocery retailers such as Kroger and Giant Eagle have announced plans to eliminate plastic bags as part of their sustainability efforts.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.