The British government has been trying to urge consumers to ditch single-use plastic bags in the hope of reducing waste and carbon emissions. As a possible means to encourage the uptake of reusable bags, the government is considering imposing a tax on plastic bags in England from 2015. Shoppers already pay a charge for single-use bags in Wales and Northern Ireland, and a similar fee will be introduced in Scotland next year.
Calls for embracing "bags for life" have emphasized the sustainability and environmental benefits, but experts have warned that switching to reusable bags could put food safety at risk and could result in a sharp increase in foodborne illnesses, the Daily Telegraph has reported.
Food safety experts explained that food products can be easily contaminated when they are placed inside bags in which raw meat or fresh vegetables have been carried. Hugh Pennington, emeritus professor of bacteriology at Aberdeen University, said that bags for multiple use are very often "heavily contaminated" with bacteria. He claimed that bags used for food should only be used once and making consumers pay an extra £0.05 ($0.08) for such bags would be wrong.
In an experiment, scientists at Glasgow Caledonian University's School of Health and Life Sciences examined a sample of one square centimeter of nine reusable bags and found that four of them fell into the "heavily contaminated" category. Results from a previous study by Pennsylvania University suggest that hospital admissions for bacterial infections in San Francisco increased by a quarter after the city banned plastic bags.