Could Reusable Carrier Bags Carry a Contamination Risk?

On the 5th November 2015, the government introduced a 5p charge on all carrier bags issued in large shops and retailers — bringing England’s bag policy in line with Wales, which first introduced its carrier bag charge in October 2011. The law now requires that all large shops across the country charge 5p for all single-use plastic carrier bags — in an effort to curb the amount of plastic sent to landfill.

Naturally, this policy change has prompted confusion from consumers and retailers alike — with many questioning which shops, chains and retailers are exempt from the carrier bag charge. On its official environment website, the government makes it clear that only retailers with over 250 employees are obligated to charge consumers for the use of plastic bags, whilst smaller shops can choose whether to charge or not. The law also sets out that paper bags are exempt from the 5p plastic carrier bag charge.

But, with some ambiguity surrounding how both prepared and raw foods might leak, how can takeaways and other food vendors ascertain whether or not to charge for a carrier — or, more importantly, allow consumers to use their own reusable bag for life when transporting food off the premises?

Consumers are being actively encouraged to reuse old carrier bags or a bag for life when out shopping, to prevent the unnecessary use of plastic bags and help them avoid the 5p charge. But, the government hasn’t made its laws on transporting prepared food very clear, meaning that consumers and food vendors are left to question the correct policy for carrying foodstuffs.

If, for instance, a customer wants to carry their takeaway in a reusable plastic bag rather than pay a 5p charge, some experts argue that this could lead to cross-contamination. The same could be said of raw foods coming in contact with ready-to-eat foods when all packed into the same reusable carrier.

To help both consumers and food retailers understand the exemptions and exclusions associated to the new carrier bag charge, here are a few things to remember:

  • The carrier bag charge only applies to businesses with over 250 employees, so if your business is only small it’s perfectly OK to offer the customer a carrier bag for free.
  • If you’re committed to using reusable bags, keep one or two for transporting raw food and pack all items separately. Remember not to use the same bag again when packing ready-to-eat food.
  • Check your bags for leaks and spillages after use, particularly if you’ve been carrying raw meat or fish. If there have been any spillages, don’t be afraid to throw the bag away.
  • For takeaways and other food vendors, we’d urge you to provide new carrier bags for customers, even if they’re insistent on using a bag for life. If they’ve previously carried contaminated food in the bag, cross-contamination could easily occur — a leading cause of food poisoning.
  • For more expert advice and information on correct food hygiene practices, get in touch with the Shieldyourself team today on 020 3773 2803 or e-mail us at

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Shield Safety Group

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