Totebagger PSA

I know that DougJ usually has the totebagger beat, but since he’s currently in an undisclosed location, I wanted to step in and warn all totebaggers: those goddam things will kill you.

67 replies
  1. 1
    MikeJ says:

    Throw them in the washing machine every now and then.

  2. 2
    Sentient Puddle says:


    I’ma do some laundry when I get home…

  3. 3

    Awesome. Glad that most of my personal non-paper-nor-plastic grocery bags are canvas, and I do wash them from time to time. Think I’ll just step up the pace a bit and toss em all in the washer.

  4. 4

    Biodegradable attracts bacteria. You just have to boil the bags before serving them. Plastic is forever though, but nothing like diamonds.

  5. 5
    slag says:

    I know that DougJ usually has the totebagger beat

    Yeah…not really funny in this context. Not that the bacteria thing is tragic to the point of being unmockable. It’s just that this particular pun didn’t work.

  6. 6
    licensed to kill time says:

    Jesus H. Christ. Everything will kill you nowadays, grungy sponges, plastic water bottles, fabric kitchen towels…I swear, I hate feeling like my kitchen is a killing zone. Don’t even get me started on raw chicken, that shit’s gotta be nuked from space.

    /end rant

  7. 7
    Warren Terra says:

    I shop every week and don’t do laundry every week. Following those directions means more bags, and more laundry.
    OTOH, most groceries are sealed or wrapped in plastic within the bag, even the produce.

  8. 8
    Sentient Puddle says:

    @licensed to kill time: As the esteemed John Maynard Keynes once said:

    In the long run we are all dead.

  9. 9
    Poopyman says:

    Clearly this isn’t to the journalistic standards of, say, the WaPo, but I saw this paragraph:

    The bacteria levels found in reusable bags were significant enough to cause a wide range of serious health problems and even lead to death – a particular danger for young children, who are especially vulnerable to food-borne illnesses, he said.

    and wondered why dying was a particular danger for young children. I figured dying was dangerous for everybody.

    Anyway, now I feel better about always forgetting those things and having to use the plastic version.

  10. 10
    CynDee says:

    I quit using mine shortly after I got them and didn’t get any more. The baggers never pay attention when I tell them to fill them only half full, as a regular size reusable holds A LOT, and little people who aren’t men can’t safely lift one.

    Will have to get a bunch of smaller ones, which are now starting to become available, but they are TOO small. Will wait. Anyway, not ready to make the investment right now.

    It’s always something.

  11. 11
    Violet says:

    Oh, yay. Something else that can kill me. I love this from the link:

    Consumers should not store reusable bags in the trunks of their cars because the higher temperature promotes growth of bacteria.

    Trunk of the car? This person does not live in the south. I keep mine inside the car, where temperatures routinely reach levels high enough to kill any living creature within minutes of the car being parked in the sun. Maybe it doesn’t kill bacteria, but it sure as heck kills anything else.

    I’ve got the recycled-from-plastic kind from Whole Foods. I like them because they’re large and stand up on their own, unlike the canvas kind. I am not sure how to wash them, though. Seems like they might fall apart if I washed them.

  12. 12

    the article says “consumers were almost completely unaware of the need to regularly wash their bags.”

    seems to me there are some pretty fuckin’ stupid consumers out there. But reusable bags are still way better than plastic.

    when you use plastic bags, you’re supporting the petrochemical industry. And yeah, i know we do that in so many ways anyway, but choosing reusables (and washing them so you don’t get e-fucking-coli) still makes an impact, however small.

  13. 13

    use cold water, delicate or hand wash cycle. no bleach, but oxyclean is probably OK.

  14. 14
    Poopyman says:

    So at what point does the production and now maintenance (washing and drying) of these bags create more of an impact to the environment than the recylable ones? Assuming they get recycled, that is.

  15. 15
    stuckinred says:

    who gives a rats ass

    if the thunder don’t get ya
    the lightnin will

  16. 16
    TooManyJens says:

    @licensed to kill time:

    fabric kitchen towels


  17. 17
    chopper says:

    fine! i’ll use the throw-away plastic bags when i go to the store.

    “…we also tested shopping carts, and found them contaminated with everything from anthrax to the bacteria which cause the gum disease known as *GINGIVITIS*”

    aw, shit.

  18. 18
    Poopyman says:

    Left to their own devices, the kids bagging at our local supermarket will dutifully fill the store-provided recyclable bags, then load those bags in your totebag.

    I guess the concept was never explained to them, or they slept through the 2 minutes of “training”.

  19. 19
    licensed to kill time says:

    @Sentient Puddle:

    And in the words of the still mortal Bob Dylan:

    “He not busy being born is busy dying”.

  20. 20
    Violet says:


    use cold water, delicate or hand wash cycle. no bleach, but oxyclean is probably OK.

    The things are falling apart already. I keep finding bits of the handle all over the floor. Wouldn’t putting them in the washing machine just finish them off?

  21. 21
    licensed to kill time says:


    They spread germs all over your counters and dishes if you don’t wash them 3 million times a day! I don’t know how I made it through my childhood!

  22. 22
    mistermix says:

    @slag: I wasn’t trying to make a pun, so now I’m totally confused. DougJ is always writing about totebaggers, hence the “totebagger beat”.

    Also, too, why not just spray the fucking things with Lysol?

  23. 23
    Seanly says:

    ehh, most of my food is in a box or can or wrapped. And I try not to wipe feces over everything – that keeps down the germs too.

  24. 24
    stuckinred says:

    @mistermix: Spray em with lighter fluid.

  25. 25
    stuckinred says:

    @Seanly: that’s a shitty thing to say!

  26. 26
    Roger Moore says:

    This is a real problem. I remember being complimented once by a supermarket bagger because my reusable bags smelled so nice. I replied that it was probably because I clean them regularly, and his reaction suggested that this was far from the norm. How slobby are Americans that they don’t wash their shopping bags even when they smell bad enough that supermarket checkers notice?

  27. 27
    fourlegsgood says:

    @Violet: Exactly!! nothing will survive the texas heat in my trunk.

  28. 28
    elmo says:

    Too lazy to click the link, but isn’t this just another one of those stories we hear every week?

    “Today exclusive: our reporter swabs the floors of public bathrooms and finds bacteria!

    Cut to horrified mother clutching adorable snot-faced child: “I never even thought about washing my shoes!

    Show graph of deaths from all infectious disease anywhere ever, with ominous voiceover: “These bacteria include the horrible bugs that have caused every plague known to humanity.”

    Cut to white-coated bespectacled professional: “This is why we recommend that mothers carry industrial-grade bleach in little spray bottles at all times. You have to spray your feet after every step you take in a public place.”

    It’s gotten to the point that I pretty much ignore all public health warnings unless the local news tells me that a non-trivial number of people have actually died. Which, by the way, never happens.

  29. 29
    yellowdog says:

    Everything!! has bacteria on it. Your body is used to it and that is a good thing. If you try to eliminate all contact with bacteria your body would not develop the antibodies to deal with the ones that inevitably get past your guard.

    The Hygiene hypothesis posits that your body needs to be exposed to germs to make sure that your immune system is working OK and that a too clean environment can foster the development of allergies, asthma, and eczema.

    Sure, wash the bags but don’t freak out about a little bit of microscopic inhabitants therein.

  30. 30
    CynDee says:

    Our health food store has biodegradable “plastic” bags made out of — get ready for this — corn. They’re real nice and a better use of corn than is ethanol.

  31. 31
    Kered (formerly Derek) says:

    Holy shit, I feel like a complete fucking dumbass. I admit it didn’t even occur to me to throw these in with the laundry. I will start doing that immediately.

  32. 32
    jeffreyw says:

    Grumble, tryin to quit, haven’t had a smoke all damn day. Totebags? Not gonna add those to shit I care about.

  33. 33
    catclub says:

    I am sure this information that everything you touch has _GERMS_ on it is completely unrelated to sales of anti-biotic
    hand cleaning gels.

    I say, keep all the ones that have NOT killed you around, to out-compete the new ones that might.

    For the immune compromised, YMMV.

    See also: yellowdog @ 29

  34. 34
    WereBear says:

    @catclub: You gotta watch those antibiotic gels; I read somewhere that an obsessive compulsive totally screwed up the skin on their hands with them, and now has warts etc. I don’t even want to know the etc.

  35. 35
    elmo says:


    Good for you! Hang in there, I bet Friday nights and weekends are the hardest. Remember it’s a process, not an event, blah blah blah, but it’s true.

    My folks both smoked when I was growing up. They both quit at the same time, which was a mistake. Before that, I had literally, swear to FSM, never ever seen them fight. When they were both “quitting” it became very tense in the house, and the slightest little thing would set them off.

    My mom started smoking again, my dad did not. Mom died of lung cancer about five years later, at the age of 53. That was almost twenty years ago. Dad will be 79 in August.

  36. 36
    David in NY says:

    Look, this study by the University of Arizona (Tucson) and Loma Linda University (Loma Linda, California) didn’t get funded just ’cause folks were curious. You can bet that the Plastic Bags Are Wonderful Ass’n funded it, because, in California (where one of the groups doing the study is located), there is a movement to prohibit plastic bags. That is all.


  37. 37
    David in NY says:

    And do they cite one single actual instance of e-coli poisoning where a reusable bag was suspected as the source?? Noooooooo. People do look into these things when they happen, and if all those bags were killing babies, somebody would have noticed.

  38. 38
    frankdawg says:

    Did you see the Mythbusters episode where they tested for e-coli on toothbrushes kept in the bathroom? They found e-coli on the brand new, right out of the package toothbrushes. I believe we are all probably soaking in it.

  39. 39
    Gina says:

    Of particular note, this “study” was commissioned by The American Chemistry Council, a plastics industry shill.

    My strategy for dealing w/shopping bag cooties is the same as the response I give when someone tells me to kiss their ass: Wash It!

  40. 40
    Gina says:

    @David in NY: Cynic? Nope, right dead on the money, especially the part about the CA legislation fight.

  41. 41
    Joel says:

    if you take a sample of just about everything these days, you’ll find e. coli. in fact, with every letter typed, you’re plunging your fingers into a colony or a few thousand..

    maybe if they could show an actual health hazard, that would be something.

  42. 42
    David in NY says:


    “study” was commissioned by The American Chemistry Council, a plastics industry shill.

    Did I not tell you!!! See my comment above. I predicted this!!

    Everybody is such a sucker for the next little threat to their babies. I am in super cranky mode about this kind of stuff after reading all the mommies and daddies on a threat at kevin drum’s blog about the whooping cough epidemic in California. “I’m not giving my baby anything that might hurt them.” Left unsaid, “Even if the risk is far less than driving a car which I do all the time and even if it will lead to lots more deaths if we don’t let our kids get vaccinated.”

    Christ, if there’s e-coli in your bag it came off your food! (You don’t shit in there!) And if you didn’t get an infection from it, it’s because you washed and cooked your food”. Please, continue washing and cooking your food. That’ll take care of things — if you don’t, the danger is the e-coli that comes from food production, which is the real problem people ought to be talking about.

  43. 43
    Violet says:

    Another food safety notice:

    Kellogg Co. is voluntarily recalling about 28 million boxes of Apple Jacks, Corn Pops, Froot Loops and Honey Smacks cereals because an unusual smell and flavor from the packages’ liners could make people ill, the company said Friday.

    More poisoning of kids, I guess.

  44. 44
    David in NY says:


    Nice work, Gina. I was suspicious, but didn’t do the work to find out who really was behind it.

  45. 45
    ruemara says:

    Um, not to get all West Indian, but don’t Americans wash stuff anymore? It kinda seems obvious.

  46. 46
    David in NY says:


    The U.S.A. Nation of scaredy cats.

  47. 47
    Vince CA says:

    I’ve never even seen a news-of-the-weird where someone died or was seriously poisoned by a totebag. Also, the article does not cite what kind of E. coli was present, as my gut is full of the stuff right now, and I’m fine.

    Since I wash and rinse and cook my food all the time, even if the E. coli was the dangerous type (and it probably isn’t), my risk of causing death to my lil’un by bacterial infection is orders of magnitude lower than her suffocating on the bag itself.

    As David in NY and Gina point out above, this isn’t really a study, but a scare tactic. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go lick my totebags.

  48. 48
    ruemara says:

    I must also point out, who are the idjits eating totebags? Especially grotty ones?

  49. 49
    Zuzu's Petals says:

    Mine are in the wash now.

  50. 50
    pseudonymous in nc says:

    I was going to ask about the funding, but the good commenters supplied the deets that didn’t make it into the article.

    Straight from the people who gave you the touch-free soap dispenser, the triclosan-infused shopping cart handle, and who will bring you the superbug epidemic thanks to the obsession with antibacterials and domestic autoclaves.

  51. 51
    rdldot says:

    @David in NY: Exactly. Blame the bag, not the food that went into it. I’m thinkin not.

  52. 52
    monkeyboy says:

    FTA: ““Our findings suggest a serious threat to public health, especially from coliform bacteria including E. coli, which were detected in half the bags sampled,”

    For FSM’s sake, E. coli is not a dangerous bacteria (unless it is the very rare Escherichia coli O157:H7.) Our bodies are full of them and people who haven’t washed their hands recently probably have some on their hands and thus they get on shopping bags.

    Most concerns about E. coli contamination is that it is used as an indicator species for fecal contamination in things like produce and swimming and drinking water where the concern is that many other bad bugs can be in feces.

    I’m pretty sure the bags were contaminated by microbes from the owner’s body and thus don’t present any threat to the owner.

    Is there any evidence that somebody ever got sick from a shopping bag? If a reusable bag has stains or starts to smell then you should wash it. Other than that you just might want to wash it a few times a year.

  53. 53
    Jon H says:

    The researcher, Gerba, is pretty much a tool of the companies who want you to fear germs beyond reason.

    Another ‘study’ he did ‘confirmed’ that germs remain in the washer after you do laundry. Funded by Clorox.

    And he did a ‘study’ about germs on keyboards.

    Fuck him until he demonstrates that the laundry/keyboard/tote bag is actually a functional vector of disease.

    We have immune systems. I think we can handle residual trace levels of bacteria.

    You might want to consider taking extra steps if someone gets off the plane from Congo and shits blood in your totebag, but otherwise, you’re going to be fine.

  54. 54
    Jon H says:

    Oh, also, the researchers on the paper are from Arizona. (Two currently there, one was there before.)


  55. 55
    FlipYrWhig says:

    @Jon H:

    You might want to consider taking extra steps if someone gets off the plane from Congo and shits blood in your totebag, but otherwise, you’re going to be fine.

    Fine, smart guy, what do _you_ use when you need to shit blood after returning from equatorial Africa? That’s practically what totebags are _made_ for!

  56. 56
    bey says:

    @Violet: If the Froot Loops don’t kill ’em the e-coli will.

    No one here gets out alive

  57. 57
    Yutsano says:

    @monkeyboy: I’m starting to think that microbiology should be a required part of high school biology these days. Seriously, BACTERIA EXIST EVERYWHERE!! They live on 500 degree vents at the bottom of the ocean ferchrssakes. We’ve been living with the little buggers since the dawn of time, but the media hypes them all up to be MRSA-resistant staph or something. Buddha on a bicycle, chill the fuck out people. If bacteria were really all dangerous we wouldn’t have made it out of evolutionary pre-school.

  58. 58
    jimBOB says:

    I read someplace that your body contains about ten times as many bacterial cells as human ones. If you could get rid of all the bacteria in your body you would die very quickly.

    I looked through the article for any evidence that bacteria in reusable shopping bags had ever been implicated in any cases of actual disease, or (better) if there’d been any comparative studies of disease rates in households using reusable or disposable bags. Without that kind of evidence then any warnings about these items as a disease vector are purely speculative.

  59. 59
    Mayken says:

    I’d like to see a few studies on actual transmission from the bags to food (in labs and real life, thanks!) before I start worrying that these bags are gonna kill my kids.

    Two small studies about bacteria in bags, while noteworthy, is not enough to make me start worrying and go back to plastic.

    Will still probably throw them all in the laundry. LOL!

  60. 60
    Deborah says:

    I’m with Elmo at 28 about no longer even registering these damn things unless there are multiple bodies.

    And who the hell doesn’t store their reusable bags in the trunk of their car? Where the hell are you supposed to keep them? If I have to remember to get them from the special sterilized reusable bag cupboard in my kitchen (assuming I would get rid of pan space for this) they’ll never make it to the store.

  61. 61
    FlipYrWhig says:

    @Deborah: Oh. My. God. You know what else is crawling with bacteria and is transported in your car? You! GAAAAH!

  62. 62
    Jon H says:

    @FlipYrWhig: “Fine, smart guy, what do you use when you need to shit blood after returning from equatorial Africa? That’s practically what totebags are made for!”

    The kitchen sink, of course.

  63. 63
    Mino says:

    Hello–E.coli is ubiquitous and generally harmless. Only specific strains are considered pathogenic.

    This current fetish for sterility is nuts. Kids that pica probably have the strongest immune systems.

  64. 64
    FlipYrWhig says:

    @Jon H:

    The kitchen sink, of course.

    Gross! Get serious. There’s dirty sponges in there!

  65. 65
    monkeyboy says:

    72% of 193 college students tested had E. coli on their hands

    From Here.

    Which means anything they touch like doorknobs, shopping cart handles, or tote bags may be “contaminated”.


  66. 66
    Sirkowski says:

    I haven’t washed my grocery bag ever since I got it in 2002. I bet there’s more dangerous bacteria on my keyboard than the bag.

  67. 67
    Jasper says:

    I liked this line:

    “should not use reusable food bags for such other purposes as carrying books or gym clothes”

    I get the gym clothes thing. But books?

    Next study: Experts recommend the iPad since books can kill!

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