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
people
News
A survey carried out by Sainsbury's Finance found 20% of new university students have never washed their own clothes, while 14% cannot even boil an egg
science...and the results are not as pointless as that sounds
News
politicsIs David Cameron trying to prove he's down with the kids?
News
Dominique Alderweireld, also known as Dodo de Saumure, is the owner of a string of brothels in Belgium
newsPhilip Sweeney gets the inside track on France's trial of the year
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
Cumberbatch was speaking on US television when he made the comment (Getty)
people
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Tom DeLonge, Travis Barker and Mark Hoppus of Blink-182 pictured in 2011.
musicBassist Mark Hoppus and drummer Travis Barker say Tom Delonge is 'disrespectful and ungrateful'
Sport
football
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'
tvBroadchurch series 2, episode 4, review - contains spoilers
Sport
cyclingDisgraced cycling star says people will soon forgive his actions
News
Britain's Prince Philip attends a Garden Party at Buckingham Palace in London
people
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Sheeran will play three sell-out gigs at Wembley Stadium in July
music
News
i100
News
Lena Dunham posing for an official portrait at Sundance 2015
people
Arts and Entertainment
Under the skin: Sarah Kane in May 1998
theatreThe story behind a new season of Sarah Kane plays
Arts and Entertainment
Preening: Johnny Depp in 'Mortdecai'
filmMortdecai becomes actor's fifth consecutive box office bomb
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

Recruitment Genius: Project Engineer

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Project Manager - Civil Engineering

£35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Business: This company is going thro...

Tradewind Recruitment: KS1 & KS2 Teachers Required

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: Tradewind Recruitment are currently working...

Recruitment Genius: Lift Repairs Sales Account Manager

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting new opportunity has...

Day In a Page

Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea