Using reusable bags during pandemic

Photo of Sandra Diamond Fox
Experts discuss how to clean reusable shopping bags in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

Experts discuss how to clean reusable shopping bags in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

Rebecca Martorella /

Update: At Monday night’s Board of Selectmen meeting, Darien First Selectman Jayme Stevenson said she has waived the enforcement of the town’s plastic bag ordinance.

She said the town’s grocers are very concerned about the potential transfer of the coronavirus from reusable bags.

Whether it’s hand sanitizer, disposable wipes, or other measures to establish proper cleaning practices in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, some questions have been asked in regard to the safety of using reusable grocery bags during this time.

Since last year, when the Connecticut General Assembly passed its plastic bag ordinance — most shoppers have become accustomed to taking their reusable along bags with them on every shopping trip.

In light of the current worldwide crisis, to play it safe, should everyone now purchase new bags each time they’re at the store?

Or, can we continue to use our reusable bags safely?

The answer is yes, reusable bags are still OK, according to David Knauf, Darien’s director of health, as long as they’re cleaned often.

“Reusable bags should be washed and dried regularly, just like clothing, which should eliminate viruses,” Knauf said.

As far as how to wash them, “Regular detergent and a clothes dryer should do it,” he added.

Darien resident Lucia Zachowski, co-chair of BYO Darien (Bring Your Own) Darien, which fought to get the legislation to pass the ban on plastic bags, has continued to use her reusable bags, and plans to do so indefinitely.

“I believe that you can adequately sanitize the reusable bags with a minimum time investment,” she said. “But it has to be a personal decision.”

As far as keeping reusable bags clean and free of contamination, aside from putting them in the washing machine with hot water and detergent, Zachowski recommends wiping them down with disinfectants, such as Lysol or Clorox wipes — focusing on the handles of the bags in particular.

In regard to the different types of reusable bags, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) said while cloth bags should be washed in a washing machine, plastic-lined bags should be scrubbed using hot water and soap.

In general, when choosing any kind of cleaning method for reusable bags — or cleaning any other often-used item — under the current crisis, Knauf said to “use common sense.”

Darien groceries

Effective immediately, both Palmer’s Market and Whole Foods Market have made changes with regard to their reusable bag policies:

Palmer’s Market, 264 Heights Road, will no longer allow reusable bags in their store.

In an announcement on their Facebook page, Palmer’s wrote:

“We will be using paper and plastic to pack your groceries. First selectman Jayme Stevenson has approved relaxing the plastic bag ordinance during the crisis.”

“We are trying to keep our cashiers and all our employees working through this pandemic and we appreciate your consideration for our safety.”

Whole Foods Market, 150 Ledge Road, does allow reusable bags in the store, but customers must pack their own bags.