These eco-friendly swaps are good for the environment, but make sure they are also healthy for you. Here’s how to ward off germs in your reusable water bottle, cloth shopping bags and more.
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Most plastic bags don’t biodegrade, so reusable ones are a smart option. But when researchers tested reusable bags shoppers were using, almost all had large numbers of fecal bacteria, according to a 2011 study in Food Protection Trends.
“Some bags had more E. coli than underwear,” says Charles P. Gerba, Ph.D., study co-author and environmental microbiologist at the University of Arizona in Tucson. Even worse? Bacteria increased tenfold when used bags sat in warm car trunks for two hours.
The solution: Wash bags regularly—and after each use if they carried meat products. “Most of the bacteria came from meat,” Gerba says. Machine-washing in hot water is best, so Gerba recommends cloth bags.
Dishrags are stored in damp, warm environments, where germs love to breed. Plus most people don’t routinely disinfect them. More than 75 percent of dishrags were found to be infected with coliform bacteria—a group that includes E. coli and Salmonella—in one 2011 study from NSF International, an independent public health organization.
The solution: Replace dishrags every day or two. Wash dirty ones with bleach in hot water. Or use a washing machine with the NSF certification mark, which guarantees that it will sanitize and remove virtually all germs, eliminating the need for bleach.
Using your own water bottle can keep 92 plastic ones from heading to the landfill each year, but make sure to keep it clean. If that bottle has a cap with a spout, your hands could corrupt it with germs when you pull it open.
The solution: Wash the bottle often, especially the cap, Gerba says. If you’re sharing it, wash it after each use. Even better, use a bottle with a screw top, which doesn’t pose as big a threat for germs.