Skip to content

The Real Reason You Shouldn't Bring Reusable Bags to the Grocery Store

Even if it they're properly disinfected, you're probably stressing out the clerk. Sorry, Earth Day.
Reusable Bags: Unpacking Meat From Fabric Bags

Reusable shopping bags have long been regarded as a responsible and ethical way to limit waste and the use of plastic bags that take centuries to biodegrade. (Happy Earth Day!) But now that we are hypersensitive to the spread of dangerous contagions—and given that the virus can survive on surfaces for varying periods of time—the question remains: Is now a good time to continue to use reusable shopping bags?

Well, the answer isn't exactly as clear as you might think. After all, the coronavirus outbreak has us rethinking everything, especially in regard to the previously pedestrian experience of grocery shopping.

Depending on the material, the COVID-19 virus can live on for anywhere from 30 minutes to eight hours. Assuming  your reusable bags are absolutely clean and disinfected, then yes, of course, it's okay to use them. But there is another consideration to bear in mind: the mental health of the grocery store clerks.

These hourly wage workers are putting their lives at risk by doing the very essential work of stocking, ringing up, and bagging your groceries, which is why many experts believe we should be closing grocery stores for good and moving to curbside pickups exclusively. Dozens of grocery store employees have succumbed to this deadly contagion, and there is at least one wrongful death lawsuit filed by the estate of a Walmart associate.

STAY INFORMED: Sign up for our newsletter to get the latest coronavirus foods news delivered straight to your inbox.

While the plastic and paper bags the grocery store provide can indeed transmit the virus if they've been sneezed or breathed upon by someone carrying the virus, bringing in an outside bag is adds stress what has become an already stressful job.

More on Coronavirus

  • health problem and people concept - indian man rubbing nose over grey background

    This is the #1 Indicator You Have Coronavirus

    It’s not shortness of breath or a dry cough.
  • Taco bell

    7 Things You'll See at Taco Bell When It Reopens

    Grabbing your own hot sauce will be a thing of the past.
  • unhealthy foods

    The Shocking Side Effect of Eating Comfort Food

    Hint: It has to do with the brain.
  • woman outdoor wearing medical face mask, social distancing, sitting on a bench, isolated from other people

    This One Thing Cuts Your Coronavirus Risk in Half, Study Says

  • restaurant interior

    Expect These 6 Major Changes at Restaurants

    Here's how restaurants are keeping you safe.

For example, a worker at a Long Island-based Trader Joe's had this to say about reusable bags in an interview with Business Insider:

We have a lot of people bring in reusable bags because New York state recently issued a plastic bag ban. I personally will never take someone's reusable bag.

No offense to anyone, but it goes back to good practice. I don't know where those bags have been. I don't know the last time the bag has been washed. I have a family at home including higher-risk members, and I'm gonna do whatever I can to make sure that they don't get sick. So I'm not touching your reusable bag.

Perhaps not every grocery store clerk will share the same concern. But the mental health of those grocery store clerks should be at least a consideration in whether you feel its a good time to use your reusable bags or not.

In many places, however, it won't be so easy to ditch your favorite tote. California, Oregon, and New York have banned plastic bags. Many other states have partial bans or charge slight fees for plastic bags. For now, at least, those fees may be well worth the charge.

READ MORE: 9 Worst Grocery Store Chains to Shop at During the Pandemic

Eat This, Not That! is constantly monitoring the latest food news as it relates to COVID-19 in order to keep you healthy, safe, and informed (and answer your most urgent questions). Here are the precautions you should be taking at the grocery store, the foods you should have on hand, the meal delivery services and restaurant chains offering takeout you need to know about, and ways you can help support those in need. We will continue to update these as new information develops. Click here for all of our COVID-19 coverage, and sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date.

She Lost 100 Pounds—And Shows You How!

Registered Dietitian and Nutritionist Ilana Muhlstein lost her weight and kept it off—and in You Can Drop It!, she'll show you how to lose it, too. More than 240,000 clients have chosen her program—and now it’s yours to keep.

Filed Under