Advice on food safety and reusable shopping bags

Last updated:
30 August 2017
shopping bags for life to separate raw and cooked foods
Good hygiene practices apply not only at home, but also when you’re shopping for food. Follow our advice to reduce the risk of cross-contamination when using re-usable shopping bags, such as standard plastic carrier bags and bags for life.

Raw foods (raw meat, raw fish and shellfish*, loose vegetables with soil on, and eggs) can contain germs or have germs on their surface that causes food poisoning. Even wrapped raw foods such as pre-packed fresh chicken, fish, etc. may have traces of harmful bugs on the outside of the packaging. To minimise the chances of getting food poisoning, take these common sense steps to reduce the risk of cross-contamination when shopping for food:

  • always pack raw and ready-to-eat food products into separate bags
  • wash your hands when you get home

*This is specifically referring to raw fish and shellfish products that are intended to be cooked before consuming. Ready-to-eat raw fish products such as sushi, sashimi and smoked salmon, which are intended to be consumed raw, should ideally be stored separately from the rest of your shopping.

Using bags for life safely

Use separate bags for raw and ready-to-eat foods

  • Before you go shopping, check if you’ll have enough bags for life to carry everything you intend to buy that will comfortably allow you to keep all of your raw foods in separate bags. Ideally, you should have enough bags to carry raw foods, ready-to-eat foods and non-food items such as washing powder separately.
  • Keep enough bags for life for raw foods only and don’t use the same bags again for ready-to-eat foods or for carrying other household items.

Pick and choose
If you decide to purchase a ‘bag for life’, there is a variety on sale in supermarkets, made of different materials and in a range of styles and sizes. Generally, a standard plastic bag for life will cost 10p, whereas other styles will be a bit more expensive. Consider what would work best for you. For example, you may want to be able to machine wash your bag for life to ensure it remains hygienic, therefore the most suitable style would be a cotton-based one.

Label your bags
Some bags for life may come with a label in them allowing you to mark on it what you intend to use the bag for (for example, raw meat and fish products, ready-to-eat foods or non-food items such as washing powder). If it doesn’t have a label, you could either colour code the bags (including by theme if the bag has a particular design) or mark on the bags to help you keep raw items separate.

Use freezer bags in the summer
On warm days, consider using insulated ‘freezer’ bags as this will help you to keep perishable items at a cooler temperature for longer, especially when stored in the boot of your car during summer months.  Perishable foods should not be kept at ambient temperatures any longer than is absolutely necessary.

Check your bags for leaks and spillages
Always check your bags for spillages (for example raw meat juices or soil) after every use. If there has been visible spillage, soiling or damage, plastic bags for life should ideally be used for another purpose (where no safety risk will occur) or replaced. Cotton/fabric bags for life can be put in the washing machine and cleaned. Even if there are no obvious spillages or staining after several uses, we would recommend that cotton/fabric bags for life be machine washed regularly if they have been used for carrying raw items.

Replace old plastic bags
Old or damaged standard 10p bags for life may be replaced free of charge at the supermarket it was purchased from. So your initial investment in some bags for life could be a significant saving in the long term. Please check with your retailer for their bags for life policy.

Further information