Bacteria lives in your reusable bags: Why the government’s ban on plastic packaging may be a double edged sword

Bacteria lives in your reusable bags: Why the government’s ban on plastic packaging may be a double edged sword

The government’s recent ban on plastic bags may have negative effects on millions of consumers if it is not properly implemented, new research has revealed.

While the use of reusable bags bodes well for the environment by reducing instances of plastic waste, the new packaging may lead to the spread of diseases.

"When meat is put into a plastic or reusable bag, there is a possibility that microorganisms from the food will contaminate the packaging."

Anthony Hilton, Professor of Applied Microbiology at Aston University

The bag may be used for different purposes and then cross contamination can occur.

This is according to Anthony Hilton, a Professor of Applied Microbiology at Aston University in Birmingham, England.

He and his team studied three types of bags just before the UK introduced a 5 pence (about Ksh6) tax on plastic bags in 2015. They investigated how bacteria like E.coli and Campylobacter can survive on a bag and how easily they can then be transferred onto someone’s hands.

Experiments have shown that about a quarter of bacteria on reusable bags can be transferred to people’s hands in a single touch.

Campylobacter is the UK’s leading cause of food poisoning and nearly half a million cases were recorded last year, according to Public Health England.

The UK’s Food Standards Agency estimates that it causes around 100 deaths a year. Most cases come from poultry when bacteria are transferred from raw meat onto ready to eat foods.

Professor Hilton says that tests done by the UK’s Food Standards Agency show that 60% to 70% of raw poultry contains Campylobacter in the meat itself, but about 5% of the packaging on the outside contains Campylobacter.

His studies have found that 1 million cells of Staphylococcus, the bacteria commonly found on everyone’s hands – but which can cause illness – survived for almost eight weeks and took 16 weeks to disappear completely.

Professor Hilton warns that the real danger lies in using plastic bags for multiple purposes like packaging raw meat, poultry and fish, among others, and then reusing the bags to store other foods or other objects that could inadvertently be given to a child.

He notes that a viable option in using a single bag for life is only effective if it is not used for multiple purposes.

Paul Morris, the Founding Chief Executive of UK-based company Addmaster, saw Professor Hilton’s study and approached him with a solution. Morris has since advocated the use of what is known as Biomaster Antimicrobial Additive technology to stop the spread of harmful bacteria.

Biomaster pioneered the use of silver based antimicrobial additives and is now the recognised leader in antibacterial additive technology.

Now, two of the UK’s major grocers – Morrisons and M&S – have started using a new kind of shopping bag, developed in the UK with the same technology, which aims to reduce how these bacteria spread.

The benefits of silver as a natural antibacterial, however, have been known since the time of the Pharaohs.

Silver has been used for thousands of years to prevent the growth of bacteria without the high toxicity associated with other metals.

The healing and anti-disease properties of silver were used in late medieval France, where entire hospital wards were plated with silver to help protect the patients from harmful bacteria.

As such, it has been strongly implied that regulators banning the use of plastic bags in countries like Kenya should also adopt the same practices.

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