The Ridiculous Death Threat

Did you read it in the newspaper recently? Deaths in San Francisco Spike—Bag Bans to Blame!  It might be scary if it were true.

Red Reusable Bag with Produce

Via Flickr. CC Attribution, Non-commercial, Share -alike by MD Anderson’s Focused on Health

The “big scoop” arises from a study commissioned by the American Chemistry Council (a trade group that represents plastic manufacturers) of 84 reusable bags used for grocery shopping that were tested in Arizona in 2009. The bags were sampled for the following bacteria: listeria, salmonella and E. coli.  No listeria or salmonella were found, but E. coli was found in seven bags.  What kind of E. coli? Dr. Susan Fernyak, director of San Francisco’s Communicable Disease and Control Prevention division, was interviewed by NPR and stated that the study failed to identify the type of E. coli in the bags, “a significant shortcoming.”  According to the CDC, most strains of E. coli are harmless.

Nevertheless, those philosophically and financially opposed to bag bans have made much of the American Chemistry Council study and it keeps popping up, years later, and needing to be aired out all over again.

In 2012, a lawyer/economist named Jonathan Klick and a colleague, Joshua Wright, suggested a link between San Francisco’s plastic bag ban and the city’s death rate from foodborne illness. I find this dramatic video risible, but if you can believe it, blogger Andrew Sullivan had linked to it in a post last year (that’s how I first came to see this), with the shocking “news” of a reusable bag health crisis occurring in San Francisco. 

In early February of this year, conservative writer Ramesh Ponnuru published an opinion piece in the Denver Post entitled “The Disgusting Consequences of Plastic-Bag Bans” re-hashing the ACC study and hyping the death threat angle. (“Klick and Wright estimate that the San Francisco [bag] ban results in a 46 percent increase in deaths from foodborne illnesses….”) This time San Francisco’s Department of Public Health felt compelled to respond with a detailed memo to illustrate unequivocally that Klick and Wright’s conclusion was “not warranted.”

In spite of this, Professor Klick (he teaches at Penn Law) is still out there promoting his hypothesis that reusable bags pose a serious health risk. The March/April 2013 issue of the Penn Gazette features Klick’s  outlandish speculation in an article titled “Getting to the Bottom of the Bag,” and of course makes no mention of the San Francisco Department of Health’s take down.

Brng.it champions the BYOR (Bring Your Own Reusable) ethic, so we love reusable bags.  Bringing your own shopping bag is one of the most effective ways to limit unnecessary waste of resources and to reduce environmental damage, human health effects and pollution associated with the life cycle of plastics.

To ensure your bags aren’t harboring any bad bacteria it’s a good idea to wash them periodically with soap and water. Another good way to avoid risk of foodborne illness is to wash or cook your food, and wash your hands before eating. But we bet you already knew that.

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