A bag-for-life that slows the growth of bacteria which cause food poisoning could be in the supermarkets within months.
The newly developed anti-bacterial bag could ease fears that hospitals will have to deal with an upsurge of food poisoning cases when the government’s plan to impose a compulsory 5p charge for single-use plastic bags comes into force.
Concerns were raised about the impact of the 5p charge because of a handful of studies that have suggested reusable bags, generally known as bags-for-life, harbour bacteria such as e-coli, salmonella and listeria.
One study in the US pointed to an increase in the number of people admitted to hospital with food poisoning when San Francisco banned retailers from giving customers plastic bags to hold their shopping.
Similarly, researchers at Glasgow Caledonian University tested a small number of reusable bags and found almost half to be heavily contaminated with bacteria.
The potential link between bags-for-life and an increase in food poisoning is believed to be because shoppers use the same bags for raw meat as they do for fruit, vegetables and other products.
Addmaster, a company based in Stafford, has developed an anti-bacterial bag, Biomaster, and said in a statement that the active agent prevents bugs from replicating “and therefore dies”.
Paul Morris, the managing director, said: “Multi-use bags which can carry raw meat one week and vegetables or clothing the next is a concern of many industry experts; this bag provides a solution to the problem.”
The company, according to The Grocer, said it is in talks with “all the major supermarkets” and could be on the shelves “within months”, though none of the supermarkets contacted by The Independent today said they were involved in discussions.
Professor Hugh Pennington, emeritus professor of bacteriology at the University of Aberdeen, has doubts that an anti-bacterial coating on a shopping bag would make much of a difference to the risks of contamination causing food poisoning.
He said it might make a small difference but that he would still advise that raw meat should never be packed into a reusable bag or with any other food, though he exempted meat packed in sealed packets as are commonly found on supermarket shelves.
He said he was unaware of the Addmaster product but that other companies have already contacted him about producing anti-bacterial bags.
The effectiveness of anti-bacterial technology would, he said, be dependent on the design of the bag and what it was used for.
“There might be some benefit but it really depends how you use them,” he said. “As long as the anti-bacterial substance has been tested and found to be harmless to humans there might be a small benefit.
“All raw meat should be wrapped in a one-use bag and the antibacterial properties of a bag, I would say, are much more useful – though of limited use – for putting your veg in a bag loose.”
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) and NHS Choices already advise shoppers who want to reuse bags to ensure that those used for raw meat and fish are not used to carry ready-to-eat foods,
An FSA spokeswoman said: “It’s a sensible precaution. There is the potential for leaks and therefore cross-contamination to other foods in any bag.”