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
Voices
voices
News
general electionThis quiz matches undecided voters with the best party for them
Life and Style
Men with beards rejoice: Your beard probably doesn't harbour faeces-like bacteria
health
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen starred in the big screen adaptation of Austen's novel in 2005
tvStar says studios are forcing actors to get buff for period roles
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
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: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Ashdown Group: Part-time Payroll Officer - Yorkshire - Professional Services

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful professional services firm is lo...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before