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Plastic Bag Tax Fuelling Toxic Bacteria

person carrying yellow carrier bag with fruit or vegetables in it

The plastic bag tax is having an unforeseen side effect, as many British consumers begin to come down with food poisoning.

The illness is a result of failing to wrap raw meat in separate plastic bags, in order to avoid paying the tax fee.

Potentially Deadly Bugs

The chairman of the Food Standards Agency, Heather Hancock, has called for supermarkets to start providing plastic bags in their meat aisles. She says that potentially deadly bugs are now spreading, and the situation could become worse if nothing is done to rectify it.

Raw Steak

Hancock has asked for shoppers to be handed free disposable plastic bags when they buy the raw meats. She also wants reminders at the self-checkout machines that raw chicken in particular should be wrapped up.

You may think that wrapping raw meat, which already comes in its own plastic packaging, is a bit of an overkill. However, food manufacturing techniques often mean that bacteria can be lurking on the outside of this packaging as well as the inside. The only way, says Hancock that shoppers can be totally sure that they are not spreading bugs onto other food is to double-wrap the meat in a second plastic bag.

It is already standard practice for shoppers to be offered a small bag at tills to put their meat products into. However, the concern is that any customers going through a self-service checkout will not be afforded this offer.

Spread of Bacteria

So, what kind of bacteria could potentially be a problem with these mistakes being made? E. Coli is one of the main suspects, as is campylobacter – names which those in food jobs should know. The spread could be prevented with just 5p spent on a bag to keep the meat separate from other foodstuffs.

Campylobacter is the most common cause of food poisoning in the UK, and is usually found on poultry. The incubation time for the food poisoning can be between 2 and 5 days, with symptoms lasting for less than a week. Around 280,000 people are affected by campylobacter in the UK every year. Salmonella can also be an issue, with incubation between 12 and 72 hours and symptoms between 4 and 7 days. Where E. Coli comes into it, beef is normally the culprit. The incubation period is 1 to 8 days but the symptoms last between a few days and a few weeks, making this the least pleasant of the bunch.

It is becoming more and more difficult to treat food poisoning, as the strains are becoming more resistant to antibiotics.

Supermarkets Taking Action

The FSA recently wrote to supermarkets in order to encourage them to provide bags for customers. Asda has responded quickly, by introducing warnings on bag for life that encourage customers to pack raw meat and fish separately from their normal shopping.

Morrisons have also been quick to introduce new red bags for meat, so that they stand out from other bags and can be quickly identified.

However, other supermarkets are ignoring the directive. Sainsbury’s and Tesco are not offering free bags for meat in the aisles or at the checkouts. Asda are also not offering the service for free, even though they are encouraging its use.

Some shops, including Marks & Spencer, have made the switch to reusable bags with anti-bacterial properties, which will help to prevent the spread of bugs.

A spokesman for the British Retail Consortium, which represents supermarkets, said: "Our members are fully aware of the continued need to help their customers reduce cross contamination and, as they did prior to the introduction of the carrier bag charge, are taking a range of approaches to prevent contamination from uncooked meat based on what works for them and their customers."