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Food safety: It's in the bag

Nov. 07, 2012 @ 12:00 AM

Not since Carol Burnett's bag lady menaced Tim Conway's hapless businessman have reusable totes been so front and center. Seattle, San Francisco and Toronto (starting in January 2013) have banned the use of plastic bags by retailers. It's strictly BYO -- a move that cuts down on throwaway plastic (100 billion plastic bags are discarded every year in the U.S.). With four or five reusable totes, you might personally replace 520 plastic bags a year. But you need to be clever to be green and healthy! So let's tote up the smart moves.

GREEN ALERT: Reuse (over and over) those heavy-duty, made-from-plastic-bottles totes -- or you're adding to pollution, not lessening it. Made in China (mostly), they take longer to decompose in a landfill than the lighter plastic bags you're boycotting, and their manufacturing may be environmentally damaging.

HEALTH SAVVY: Bacteria take up residence in almost every reusable grocery bag -- whether made from fabric or recycled plastic; coliform bacteria love them because of the (mostly invisible) food residue that the bags contain. But don't trash your totes! These bacteria are mostly harmless; you have a lot of them living in your gut right now (only certain strains can make you sick). Washing your bags with regular soap, by hand or in a machine will get rid of 99 percent of those germs. But you know what one study found? Only 3 percent of you wash your bags! So get with the soap, and spruce up the totes.

Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of "The Dr. Oz Show," and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Medical Officer at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute. For more information go to www.RealAge.com.

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