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Should You Use Reusable Grocery Bags During Coronavirus?

They could be carrying germs longer than you think
kirin_photo/E+ via Getty Images

Grocery shopping has looked different ever since the coronavirus hit the U.S. — stores have different hours for senior citizens, protective shields have been placed in front of registers, signs have been hung that ask shoppers to only take one item and tape has been placed on the ground as a social distancing aid. But another question has arisen about the spread of germs: Should you use reusable bags?

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Although reusable grocery bags are usually one of the most eco-friendly things you can buy, using them at grocery stores while the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread might not be health-savvy.

Stores like Hy-Vee, Target and Trader Joe’s are just some of the chains that have suspended use of reusable bags for the time being. The reasoning behind the suspension is to stop the spread of germs that remain on the bag.

In a study from the New England Journal of Medicine, the virus was found to be viable on plastic surfaces up to 72 hours after it had been applied. The study covered multiple surfaces including stainless steel, cardboard and copper, but did not focus on cloth bags.

Still, in an effort to minimize the spread, some stores and states have banned the use of reusable bags or have allowed them only in self-checkout lanes. Others, such as California, have asked that you clean or disinfect your reusable bags, much the same as you might disinfect other things in your home during this time.

Cleaning your reusable bag would be good practice regardless, as only 3% of consumers do, according to a 2011 study published in Food Protection Trends. The same study also found that 99% of reusable bags that were tested contained some form of bacteria. 

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Public settings like the grocery store, with all the rules and regulations about social distancing and mitigating the spread of germs, can be cause for some stress. If all the changes and new practices have induced new worries or fears in you, use these tips for managing coronavirus anxiety.