COVID-19 and Reusable Bags

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the U.S., Cuyahoga County made the decision to delay enforcement of the ban until January 2021 as we better learned how COVID-19 works and how it is spread. Recently, Governor DeWine signed legislation placing a temporary moratorium on local bag bans, preventing the County from being able to enforce the ban.

The Cuyahoga County Board of Health has issued recommendations on the use of reusable bags, ultimately determining that they are a safe option for shoppers, highlighting that COVID-19 is spread through person-to-person contact rather than through surfaces or items.

Below are statements on the use of reusable bags from the FDA and CDC:

FDA: “We want to reassure consumers that there is currently no evidence of human or animal food or food packaging being associated with transmission of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. This particular coronavirus causes respiratory illness and is spread from person-to-person, unlike foodborne gastrointestinal or GI viruses, such as norovirus and hepatitis A that often make people ill through contaminated food.”

CDC: “COVID-19 is thought to spread mainly through close contact from person-to-person” and “It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes. This is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.”

Cuyahoga County Board of Health Tips for the Use of Reusable Grocery Bags

COVID-Related Safety Update:

  • Although experts have advised that COVID-19 can remain infectious on surfaces for varying times depending on the material, including both plastic and cloth, the virus is primarily spread through close contact with other people via airborne droplets.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that "the risk of infection by the virus from food products, food packaging and bags is thought to be very low."
  • The CDC reassures that, so long as bags are being cleaned properly after each use, there is very little risk from using reusable bags.
  • More than 125 virologists, epidemiologists, and health experts from 18 different countries have signed a statement advising that reusables are safe to use during this pandemic, as long as you wash them. “To prevent transmission through objects and surfaces, one can assume that any object or surface in a public space — reusable or disposable — could be contaminated with the virus. Single-use plastic is not inherently safer than reusables, and causes additional public health concerns once it is discarded.”
  • Single-use plastic bags typically have a short useful life, but they will remain as pollution in the environment for many years in landfills, in lakes and oceans, and on land.

General Safety Tips:

  • Wash your reusable bags routinely - turn them inside out and either hand wash them in hot soapy water or put them in a washing machine using the warmest appropriate water setting. Dry them completely in a machine or on the line.
  • Wipe down bags that can’t be washed with disinfecting or anti-bacterial wipes, especially if fresh foods may have dripped from their original containers.
  • Use separate bags for raw meats, seafood and produce. Minimize the chance of cross contamination by placing raw foods that may drip in separate bags from ready-to-eat foods, like fruits and vegetables.
  • You can safely transport food products and chemicals, including cleaners and other nonfood liquids in separate labeled bags.
  • Store bags in your car instead of your trunk to help keep them dry. Keep them visible, so you don’t forget to bring them into the store with you.
  • Discard old bags that can no longer be properly washed or disinfected.
  • When in doubt, wash your reusable bags!