In Wales retailers have been charging for carrier bags since October 2011. As a result there has been an incredible 96% reduction in their use in some retail sectors. Shoppers in the rest of the UK are encouraged to purchase and re-use ‘bags for life’ to reduce the scale of carrier bag consumption. However the big supermarkets do still provide thinner plastic bags for free. They have also, noticeably, stopped providing smaller plastic bags which cashiers routinely used to protect meat, fish and items such as cream and yogurts.
Perhaps the reason for this is that food packaging is much more robust nowadays. By way of example, last night I had to stab the outer packaging of some smoked mackerel fillets with sharp scissors to get access to the contents. Then the fillets were shrink-wrapped to the base of the carton.
At VWA we’re essentially against using and throwing away plastic carrier bags. In fact delegates from our courses are all given a strong cotton tote bag, which is ideal for use when shopping. Nevertheless the plastic bag does play an important role in reducing the likelihood of cross-contamination of ready-to-eat foods by raw meat, poultry or fish. So whether you’re using free carriers or recycling existing ones, you should take note of the following tips published by the Food Standards Agency in Wales:
- Keep raw meat and fish separate from ready-to eat-foods, in separate bags.
- If your bags are re-useable, keep one or two just for use with raw meat and fish. Don’t use them for ready-to-eat foods.
- Re-useable bags (and single use carrier bags) should be disposed of if there’s been any spillage of raw meat juices.
Remember, even if a carrier bag looks clean, if it’s been used for raw meat, there may still be traces of meat juices present which could contaminate other fresh produce or ready-to-eat foods.