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Can I bring my own bag to B.C. grocery stores? Is it a COVID-19 vector?

FILE: A shopper leaves a grocery store carrying his groceries in plastic bags Tuesday, August 30, 2016 in Brossard, Que. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

B.C. advises grocery stores to tell customers not to put bags on checkout counter

Coronavirus can live up to 72 hours on plastic surfaces, study finds

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When you have questions, NEWS 1130 Gets Answers.


This question tackles reusable bags at B.C. grocery stores: “Different retailers have different policies around their use, suggesting there’s no one direction from the provincial health authority. Also, what’s the current science on whether they can actually spread COVID-19?”


Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s provincial health officer, initially advised grocery stores to provide clean single-use bags to customers.

“Customers should not use their own containers, reusable bags or boxes” and post signs telling customers of the policy, said a March 29 advisory

On April 25, the updated advisory advised grocers to continue providing single-use bags but no longer urged them to ban reusable bags altogether.

“Post signs at each check-out indicating that the customer’s own bags are not to be placed on checkout counters,” the current guidance says.

Save-On-Foods has banned the use of reusable bags at all of its locations since March and has no plans to change the policy anytime soon.

“Many of our team members and customers have expressed concern about the safety of using reusable bags at this time and we want to do everything we can to put them at ease,” a spokesperson told NEWS 1130. “We continue to monitor this, but at the present time, we are not accepting reusable bags in our stores, however we will not be charging our customers for plastic bags.”

Sobeys – which operates Sobeys, Safeway, Thrifty Foods, IGA and FreshCo grocery stores in B.C. – said it does allow customers to use their own bags.
“If customers choose to use their own bags, we do ask that they pack their groceries to help limit contact with our teammates,” a spokesperson said. “We also encourage our customers to properly care for and wash their reusable bags.”

City Avenue Market (three grocery stores in East Vancouver, New Westminster and Port Coquitlam formerly known as Donald’s Market) said it “strongly [advises] against the use of reusable bags at this time,” adding it will provide paper bags free of charge.

A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that the coronavirus can survive on stainless steel and plastic for up to 72 hours, but Carolyn Machamer, a Johns Hopkins School of Medicine professor who has long studied coronaviruses, said the headlines that studied produced can be misleading.

“What’s getting a lot of press and is presented out of context is that the virus can last on plastic for 72 hours – which sounds really scary. But what’s more important is the amount of the virus that remains. It’s less than 0.1% of the starting virus material,” she said in a blog post, adding that small amount makes the risk of infection “theoretically possible but unlikely.”

Cleaning surfaces is a “very effective” way to kill the coronavirus on a surface, she said, noting the risk of contracting COVID-19 is much more likely to happen via airborne droplets.