06/28/2010 02:25 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Masters of the Obvious

The American Chemistry Council has been making hay with its earth-shattering findings that unwashed reusable bags can be contaminated with a variety of bacterial pathogens, including Salmonella. Bag bacteria counts are especially high when you allow meat and chicken to incubate in the trunk of a car where temperatures can get nice and toasty. I wonder how much the ACC paid for this ground-breaking research to point out the obvious.

But give credit where credit is due -- at least the ACC hired a professor with a strong scientific reputation, Chuck Gerba from the University of Arizona. Gerba has done a number of these studies and I seem to remember him comparing kitchen counter and sink sponge pathogen levels to toilet bowls. Guess which surfaces were more contaminated? Don't use that kitchen sponge for too long!

Gerba's research points out that hygiene is a critical element for public health protection, but it certainly didn't advocate for continued reliance on single-use plastic bags to protect public health. I've yet to see a Samonella, E. coli 0157 or cholera outbreak in a country that has banned or put a fee on plastic bags. (Wait for the ACC to blame the next bird flu outbreak in China on their plastic bag ban.)

The study points out what we all know. Wash your bags periodically and don't put raw chicken and meat with the rest of your groceries. I've been using reusable bags for years, but I still put my produce and meat in separate plastic bags.

The study's accompanying poll reminds us that many people just don't use common sense when it comes to protecting public health. That's why plastic bags often come accompanied with warnings such as "This bag is not a toy!" In a liability driven world, those words of warning became necessary because one toddler too many was left to play with a plastic bag. However, no one supporting AB 1998 is asking for a plastic bag ban because of suffocation risk.

Last week the Los Angeles Times joined the growing ranks of newspapers that have strongly endorsed AB 1998, a California bill that would bar the distribution of single-use plastic bags at grocery stores and mass retailers. The first senate committee (Environmental Quality) vote is scheduled for today, so the release of the ACC study could not have been more perfectly timed by AB 1998 opponents.

But the fact the ACC paid for such a study tells you how desperate its members are getting. Of course the bill authors and supporters (including the grocers, union, retailers and environmental community) took these concerns into account. That's why the bill doesn't apply to plastic bags used for produce and meats.

Final words of incredibly obvious advice: 1) Wash your bags with soap and hot water; 2) Don't put raw meat and chicken or even produce in your reusable bag; and 3) Don't eat, lick or otherwise taste your reusable bag.

These words of wisdom are right up there with: 1) Wash your hands with potable water and soap after you go to the bathroom; 2) Cover your mouth when you cough and sneeze; 3) Stay home when you have a fever; and 4) Remember, wear clean underwear each and every day!

If everyone follows these words of wisdom, we will live in a much healthier world. And that advice is not brought to you by the ACC.