SACRAMENTO, CA – State Senator Tony Strickland (R-Moorpark) said Thursday now that there’s a documented case where a contaminated reusable bag has made people sick, it’s time to start raising public awareness about the potential health hazards. Strickland is the author of SB 1106, a measure that would have required the State of California to conduct a public awareness campaign and further tests of reusable bags. The measure was defeated two weeks ago by the Senate Environmental Quality Committee.
Oregon public health officials have traced an outbreak of norovirus to a reusable grocery bag that infected members of a Beaverton, OR girls’ soccer team after they shared cookies that had been transported in the grocery bag. The soccer team of 13- and 14-year-olds traveled to Seattle for a weekend tournament in October 2010. At the tournament, half of the team got sick with symptoms of the bug, which often resemble the “stomach flu,” including vomiting, diarrhea and stomach cramps.
Strickland says he isn’t surprised it happened.
“Despite two public health studies, and physicians in committee providing expert testimony, my colleagues killed the bill because there was no documented case where reusable bags caused a food-borne illness,” Strickland said. “The medical evidence is clear. People need to know that reusable bags pose a serious health risk. A public awareness campaign is needed now more than ever.”
In recent years, environmentally-conscience consumers have increasingly utilized the reusable bag to carry out groceries from the store. Most shoppers are unaware that these bags, if not regularly washed, are sources of harmful bacteria. Under the right circumstances, there are many products and sources that can cause serious, if not deadly, food-borne infections, among them raw meat, poultry and seafood products. SB 1106 would have required manufacturers of reusable bags to include a warning label that highlights the potential health risks of food cross contamination. It also would have directed the Department of Resources and Recycling and Recovery, in consultation with the Department of Public Health, to conduct a research project and an awareness campaign.
“We should not play politics with the public’s health,” Strickland said. “Consumers and grocery workers need to know about the very real health risks of food cross contamination and reusable bags.”
Each year millions of Americans become sick from illness related to food products and groceries, in fact 1 in 6 Americans. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that in the United States, contaminated food causes approximately 1,000 reported disease outbreaks and an estimated 48 million illnesses, 128,000 hospitalizations, and 3,000 deaths annually. Two separate research projects have already been conducted and underscore the real risk of cross-contamination from un-washed reusable bags: a Toronto, Canada Summerbell study and another by the University of Arizona conducted by doctors Gerba, Williams and Sinclair. Both are unequivocal in their recognition of the serious risk of cross contamination.
Tony Strickland represents California Senate District 19, which includes portions of Los Angeles, Ventura, and Santa Barbara counties.