Queen's Speech: ‘Food poisoning threat’ from the 5p plastic bag charge

Studies have shown an increase in the use of 'bags for life' can lead to a spike in illness rates as shoppers place items in bags already used to store fresh meat and raw vegetables

whitehall editor

Government plans to make supermarkets charge 5p for plastic bags could result in an increase in food poisoning, medical experts have warned.

The charge, which was announced in the Queen’s Speech, is designed to cut new bag use by up to 75 per cent and reduce environmental damage caused by plastic bag blight.

But international studies have shown that an increase in the use of “bags for life” can lead to a spike in illness rates as shoppers place new items in bags already used to store fresh meat and raw vegetables.

Researchers in America found that a ban on plastic bags in San Francisco in 2007 may have increased deaths from food poisoning by over 50 per cent in a year.

Economists at the University of Pennsylvania investigated deaths and emergency admissions to hospital from “intestinal infectious diseases” in the wake of a ban on bags. It concluded that, as a result of the ban, San Francisco saw between 5.4 and 15.8 additional fatalities in a year from illnesses caused by  food bugs.

“We find that both deaths and emergency room visits spiked as soon as the ban went into effect, Professors Jonathan Klick and Joshua Wright concluded. “Relative to other counties, deaths in San Francisco increased by 50 to 100 per cent, and ER visits increased by a comparable amount.”

They added: “Subsequent bans by other cities in California appear to be associated with similar effects. This suggests that the plastic bag ban generated serious public health problems.”

In another study in the UK, a selection of reusable bags was analysed by Glasgow Caledonian University’s School of Health and Life Sciences. Scientists analysed one square centimetre of each bag, which included plastic and cloth types. Four of the nine bags fell into the “heavily contaminated” category.

Under the plans announced today, a 5p charge will be introduced in England from October 2015 to help reduce the number of plastic bags handed out by retailers across the country, many of which end up as litter and harm the environment. Small retailers will be exempt from the charge.

In 2012, more than 7 billion single-use carrier bags were handed out in England by supermarkets. A 5p levy in Wales has shown significant success, reducing the number of bags given out in the country by 75 per cent. Northern Ireland has also brought in a charge, with Scotland set to do so this year.

Hugh Pennington, emeritus professor of bacteriology at Aberdeen University, who has chaired two major inquiries into E.coli, said it could result in “an increase in the number of cases of food poisoning”. But he added that packaged supermarket products should be entirely safe in re-used bags and present no threat to health.

A spokeswoman for Public Health England said it had not done any research into the contamination of “bags for life” but was aware of the studies that had been done. She added that people should take “sensible precautions such as handwashing before handling food or eating, and throw away visibly dirty bags”.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Professor David Nutt wants to change the way gravely ill patients are treated in Britain
people Why does a former Government tsar believe that mind-altering drugs have a place on prescription?
News
Norway’s ‘The Nordland Line – Minute by Minute, Season by Season’ continues the trend of slow TV
television The BBC have commissioned a series of programmes doing away with high-production values, commentary, script or drama
Arts and Entertainment
art
Sport
Jonny Evans has pleaded not guilty to an FA charge for spitting at Papiss Cisse
football
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
Kate Moss will make a cameo appearance in David Walliams' The Boy in the Dress
fashion
News
The image released by the Salvation Army, using 'The Dress'
news
Sport
Liverpool defender Kolo Toure
football Defender could make history in the FA Cup, but African Cup of Nations win means he's already content
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Technical Presales Consultant - London - £65,000 OTE.

£65000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Technical Presales Engineer - central London ...

Recruitment Genius: Physiotherapist / Sports Therapist

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Physiotherapist / Sports Ther...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive / Advisor

£8 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives / Advisors are required...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operative

£14000 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable