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Why Can We Not Reuse Freezer Bags Used for Raw Meats or Seafood?

I couldn't find any educated or informed answers googling. Comments just say they wouldn't reuse freezer bags that had raw meats in them but no reason why.

Does cooking not kill any potentially dangerous bacteria?

Do people do it out of habit? like how they peel carrots for cosmetic reasons?

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  1. Not a scientist, so cannot really comment intelligently on the bacteria issue (although I would surmise that neither freezing nor cooking will kill all bacteria, but that's just a guess).

    The reason I don't reuse freezer bags, or actually swap freezer bags from beef to fish is because of the smell or odor. Even frozen meats will impart their own scent and I wouldn't want my tuna end up with a nice smoky steak flavor.

      1. re: irishnyc

        I disagree, plain and simple. You're failing to re-use a piece of plastic that can't practicably be recycled by individuals. At least not here in NYC.

        Why risk contributing more than we really can't avoid to the Texas-sized rafts of plastic that rotate in ocean gyres?

        The baked-in assumptions, institutional and individual, that result in those vast rafts of waste -- THAT'S what's disgusting!

      2. I guess I don't understand the question. What does cooking have to do with it? I reuse freezer bags, after washing in soap and hot water. I reuse all kinds of heavy duty bags that way, whether they had raw or cooked meat in them. Actually, when I think about it, I usually wrap whatever it is in plastic wrap before putting it into the freezer bag, anyway. So, probably there is little contact with the bag itself. Regarding the original thesis: Why would there be any bacteria involved if the bag was washed and dried?

        1 Reply
        1. re: MazDee

          When the OP talks about cooking killing potential dangerous bacteria, I think she is referring to any bacteria left in the bag that contaminates the second round of meat stored in the bag. The OP is asking if such bacteria on the second round of meat will be killed when it's cooked.

        2. I do it all the time and have never had a problem. I wash out my bags, just as I would a dish. When growing up, my aunt, who lived through the Depression, never bought baggies, plastic wrap, etc., but always reused milk bags, cutting the tops off and washing them. Now that was milk, but washing is washing.

          Bags have corners, and they can be hard to clean, but I turn the bag inside out, if necessary.

          7 Replies
          1. re: Full tummy

            Same here; do it all the time. I have a little drying track so I can thoroughly dry the bags before storing/reusing them. I buy bulk meat at costco and repack into freezer bags.

            I do throw the bags away if I have added marinade that is particularly smelly or hard to clean.

            1. re: tcamp

              A special drying rack just for this purpose? Or something you rigged up? I have so little space in my kitchen, but I find places to dry them...

              1. re: Full tummy

                Sort of an impulse buy at a 'green goods' expo: Before that I hung them all over and really irritated my spouse.

                http://www.gaiam.com/product/id/10071...

                1. re: tcamp

                  A cute and simple design. Mine is often my cooking utensil holder. Looks very similar, except the base is an earthenware holder, and the bags are hanging over the utensils. Luckily, my husband puts up with the bags, though he would most certainly just toss them, if it was up to him...

                  1. re: tcamp

                    I use chopsticks in a jar to replicate the same function. I suppose you could fill the jar with sand if you wanted to keep the chopsticks spaced evenly and weigh the jar down more, but I don't.

              2. re: Full tummy

                Same here, my first thought was "we can't?"

              3. I keep meat in its original packaging (butcher paper or plastic, depending on where it is purchased) when I place it in the freezer bag. I'll use the same bag several times until it starts looking ratty. I'm too lazy to wash bags, but that's a great idea!

                If I placed unwrapped raw meat in a freezer bag, I would be most concerned about ground meat. That's because when shaping it, say, into patties or a meatloaf, the meat on the exterior gets pushed inside. The more the surface is contaminated, the more careful you have to be about cooking the meat thoroughly all the way to the center.

                1. Maybe the concern is that you might accidentally put something that you eat raw in a bag that was used for meat?

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: jzerocsk

                    That is definitely a concern. Also, the act of putting the new meat into or taking it out of the used bag could result in contamination of your hands, your surfaces, etc., with bacteria that are now more concentrated and so more risky.

                  2. I'm not gonna say it's bad. I'm not gonna say it's okay. I really don't know.

                    My feeling is this. There's gonna be more potential for cross contamination. There's the possibility of chemicals leeching out of the bag. There's the hassle of cleaning and drying the bag.
                    At a penny or two a bag, I don't worry about it and throw it out.

                    DT

                    8 Replies
                    1. re: Davwud

                      I appreciate that, but a good quality Ziploc freezer bag can cost more than that, but yeah, we're talking nickels or dimes. I just try to reduce the waste I produce. At someone's house recently, I saw them taking things like crackers and cookies out of a bunch of brand new looking ziploc bags (I recognize brand new because none of mine are, haha) and tossing the bags in the garbage. I cringed. I'm thinking "they're not even dirty"!!!

                      1. re: Full tummy

                        I would reuse those bags.

                        I'm not a militant tree hugger but I don't feel the need to needlessly waste stuff either.

                        DT

                        1. re: Davwud

                          I try to do what I can, but I ain't perfect. Sometimes I'm a bit penny pinching when it comes to such things, haha, if you ask my husband...

                        2. re: Full tummy

                          Nickels are the new penny where we live eh? :)

                          1. re: LexiFirefly

                            What's an individual to do, faced with more and more info about more and more planetary woes? Dollars, nickels, pennies. Better than nothing? I have no idea!

                            1. re: placebonyc

                              Here in Canada we recently got rid of the penny. I was making a joke about that.

                        3. re: Davwud

                          I have a hard time believing there are chemicals leaching off of a freezer bag, while it's in the freezer or fridge. Now, if you were cooking in that bag in the microwave, for instance, then I could believe it.

                          Washing and thoroughly drying the bags is fine. As is wrapping the raw product in freezer wrap, before putting into the bag, which you should be doing anyway, to minimize freezer burn.

                          1. re: Phurstluv

                            I'm not saying they are. I'm not saying they aren't. I'm sure you could find an argument both ways. All I'm saying is that they're cheap enough that I don't mind erring on the side of caution.

                            DT

                        4. If you ever took professional foodservice courses, then you would know it's not a great idea. Cross contamination is one of the most needless ways to sicken people. Of course you could wash the bags well and reuse them, or turn them inside out, one of the best things about home cooking is not having to worry about hundreds of people getting sick, just you and yours. I reuse plastic bags for dry stuff, but never gooey stuff that harbors bacteria.

                          OK here is some "education" I learned at Tyson Chicken School (I know, please don't laugh, it was actually lots of fun)

                          Bacteria multiplication per square centimeter on chicken stored at 40 degrees:
                          Day 0 (at the factory) 360 bacteria per square centimeter
                          Day1 (probably in transit) 5,800
                          Day 2 92,000 ( maybe delivered by now)
                          Day 3 1,475,000 (delivered to store and hopefully you buy it and cook that day)

                          All of above are considered acceptable, believe it or not
                          Then:
                          Day 4 23,600,000 you will notice off odors
                          Day 5 377,500,000 it will be slimy

                          As far as bacteria growth above 40 degrees: they will DOUBLE from above figures..so,
                          every half four at 90 degrees, double the bacteria
                          every 1 hour at 70 degrees, ditto
                          every 2 hours at 60 degrees, etc
                          every 3 hours at 50 degrees
                          every 6 hours at 40 (as above)
                          every 12 hours at 36
                          and every 20 hours at 32

                          Then when it's frozen, the bacteria doesn't go away, it just waits for you to thaw it so it can continue to develop. Of course this is chicken, but still, once you get these kinds of info drilled into you, it does affect how you handle food a bit. I have a feeling that cooking doesn't necessarily kill all bacteria, it's just that it's at an "acceptable" level, so why add to the mix?

                          So it's up to you, but I'm not big on reusing bags that held raw meat myself. It's definitely not for cosmetic reasons. Hope that's not too much information for you!

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: coll

                            You've just illustrated a very good reason to rinse your meat off before cooking.

                            Also, although it may seem "gross", we would be having a lot more of food-borne illness in this country, and world, for that matter, except for the fact that there are bacteria living everywhere, on everything. And the human body has developed ways to "handle" a lot of the bacteria over the past few eons. We have bacteria on our skin, and in all our guts, many of which break down our food for us. Most of these are harmless.

                            That being said, I've had food poisoning before, and it is not pretty, and it is wise to practice safe food handling practices to avoid it at all costs.

                          2. I re-use the freezer bags until they have a lot of freezer odor. Also the washed and dried bags for the vacuum sealer, being careful to cut them right below the previous seal, and straightly, when opening them.

                            1. I often don't end up washing the bags from meat, as I often don't do dishes right away. Once they have been sitting for a while, I am reluctant to reuse. However, if they are washed right away, I am fine with it. After all, I wash all the other containers/bowls, utensils, etc. that I use for raw meat. I don't throw those out.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: Sooeygun

                                I rinse them out immediately upon opening and return them to the freezer for storage... the retained water freezes and shakes right out when I pull the bag out for reuse. The new stuff goes in, I vacuum seal it and it is right back into the freezer... When it finally gets too short to use, then it hits the trash.

                              2. I re-use zip bags that I've had dry goods in like rice, pasta, crackers, etc and fruits & veggies; I don't re-use meat bags, it's just not a good idea

                                1. After reading everything:
                                  1) The answer to the question "Does cooking not kill any potentially dangerous bacteria?" is still unfounded.
                                  2) It does not seems like people do it out of habit, but out of irrational fear. Food-borne mishaps are rare and not something to be concern with if you cook properly.

                                  4 Replies
                                  1. re: inventivefficiency

                                    I have to tell you, after reading through this thread and this last response, it seems like you were looking for a particular point of view before you even posted your question. I don't know if that was your intention, but that is how it reads.

                                    My respectful suggestion is to please pay attention to the nice person who went to food handling school. You know, the one who was nice enough to share with you what he/she learned when there. Everyone else here is working on information they obtained via various informal methods except that respondent. The fact is, food borne illness is not rare, and it can actually kill you if you are unlucky enough to have a weak immune system or if a particularly nasty bug is involved. You only hear about the really serious cases, but there were tens of thousands of people sickened last year in the United States from food borne illness, often the result of food sources that did not even involve raw meat. Scallions, tomatoes and lettuces were some of the worst offenders last year. Most people just have simple digestive problems, but some are not so lucky.

                                    1. re: RGC1982

                                      I would also like to add that even though I am a bag washer, I do know that cooking does not necessarily kill all that can harm you; if it did, there would be no need for refrigeration aside from maintaining taste and appearance of the things we eat.

                                      What you say about scallions, tomatoes, and lettuce is very true; these are all things that should be washed well. Which is how I approach the bags I reuse.

                                      You are also right that if one is to be on the safe side, one wouldn't reuse. Food handling programs are set up to ensure that all precautions are taken to prevent problems--and lawsuits. Most people don't do anything like all the things that are taught in such courses. I know a family that routinely leaves leftovers on the counter all night, and a friend who leaves condiments and natural nut butters clearly marked "refrigerate after opening" in her cupboard...

                                      I suppose when we are feeding only ourselves, then we assume the risks we are willing to take. I wouldn't go parachuting or bungee jumping, but maybe I'm doing the equivalent of that in the kitchen? I do wash scrupulously, though.

                                      1. re: Full tummy

                                        Washing thoroughly and scrupulously is probably fine. I doubt that most people would actually do a good job at this, however, as it involves soap, rinsing, and drying inside out. Based on what I see in restrooms and what I read, most people just cut corners eventually. If you are really doing it, it is probably safe enough. I'd be willing to bet that you are in the minority.

                                        I wouldn't go bungee jumping or parachuting either :) No upside.

                                      2. re: RGC1982

                                        I did not plan this whole thing out. Maybe you're reading too much into my most recent reply. I did some more research before posting my previous reply. If you google, you'll realized food-borne illnesses are statistically rare.

                                    2. I've read all of the posts so far a few times -- and i've got to say I'm a little dissappointed and a little bit scared. While I think it's great that so many of you re-use plastic bags, I am a little horrified that you all think it's even a little bit okay to re-use bags that have held raw meat or poultry. coll is the voice of reason here -- please listen to him/her!

                                      Unless you are using rinse water in excess of 165 degrees or using a three-sink method of wash-diluted bleach (50 parts per million)-rinse, you can not get rid of any residual salmonella, e-coli or any number of other bacteria from a plastic bag. It's true that proper cooking will kill most bacteria, but if you take a bag that stored chicken or ground beef, wash it and then store crackers in it -- ::shiver::.

                                      Please throw those bags out!

                                      3 Replies
                                      1. re: chefbeth

                                        But then, by that logic, we really shouldn't have meat in our kitchen at all. I mean, I often put raw meat in a metal bowl to marinate... Raw meat often touches my cutting board... I thaw raw meat in a glass dish in the fridge... Yet, I am certain I don't have anything like the kind of rinse water you're suggesting; nor do I have three sinks or use wash-diluted bleach. Don't think most meat eaters use such practices...

                                        1. re: Full tummy

                                          plastic bags are probably hundreds of times more porous than metal or glassware, thus providing millions of places for bacteria and viruses to hide and live on through a washing and drying. Whereas metal and glass can be sterilized in the dishwasher or even the microwave; even washed in the sink and left "clean" and dry on the counter top, the death rate of any microorganisms left on the surface of non-porous materials is many times greater than that of porous ones.

                                          1. re: tastyvegas

                                            Oddly enough, bacteria die quicker on a porous material. It increases the evaporative rate of water and once there is no water most will die and none will reproduce except in terms of spore production.

                                            I would not worry about a washed plastic bag when compared to a washed wooden cutting board. Anything that is bone dry is not a breeding ground

                                      2. That will NEVER happen at Casa Jfood. If there is raw meat in a plastic bag then that bag goes straight into the garbage, no ups, no extras. These bags cost <10-cents each and the jfoods' health is worth more than that, in his opinion. Likewise jfood has a separate cutting board that is for raw meat only, never has or will a fresh vegetable get the slice and dice on that board.

                                        Others can do what they would like, believe what they would like but no way for jfood.

                                        BTW - it is rare that there is any raw meats in the freezer in reusable bags anyway. Jfood loves his foodsaver bag sucker.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: jfood

                                          >>>
                                          If there is raw meat in a plastic bag then that bag goes straight into the garbage, no ups, no extras. These bags cost <10-cents each and the jfoods' health is worth more than that, in his opinion.
                                          <<<

                                          That Is my opinion, as well. (My health, not jfood's, tho I wish him no harm.) Tho I probably could maybe get all those nasty little buggers, it's not worth the risk of missing some. Like jfood, I, too, rely on and love my FoodSaver. Even tho I have had good luck reusing some of the bags, those that contained raw protein get immediately trashed.

                                        2. not to sound gross, but I reuse my ziplock bags for doggie dookie patrol . We have to pick up all dog dookies and remove them from the trail, or from other peoples lawns. So, my chicken legs bag becomes the doggie bag, literally..

                                          1. The question "Does cooking not kill any potentially dangerous bacteria?" is still unfounded though.

                                            Does anyone have links with scientific evidence? from .edu sites?

                                            5 Replies
                                            1. re: inventivefficiency

                                              High heat kills all live dangerous bacteria. HOWEVER, cooking temperatures do NOT necessarily destroy toxins that are contained within/released by dangerous bacteria (depends on temperature and pH), nor do cooking temperatures kill bacterial spores (like those formed by Clostridum botulinum). If you can get the temperature significantly higher than normal cooking temps (ie. sterilizing autoclave or >atmospheric pressure), you can kill the spores and denature the toxins, which is one of the good reasons why hospitals use autoclaves.

                                              1. re: inventivefficiency

                                                There are two things at work here, bacteria and toxins they produce. You have to start from that point. See above answer for more info, I am just emphasizing.

                                                1. re: inventivefficiency

                                                  I am ServSafe certified (http://www.servsafe.com/index.aspx) and I would not reuse ziploc bags that have contained raw meat.
                                                  Here are helpful links from the National Restaurant Association for consumers who whish to know more about foodborne illness and what they can do to reduce the risk:
                                                  http://www.restaurant.org/foodsafety/...
                                                  I especially recommend this page on the most common pathogens, how they are spread, and tips on reducing their harm:
                                                  http://www.restaurant.org/foodsafety/...

                                                  You can read through and make up your own mind on whether you want to reuse raw meat bags or not.
                                                  But I can tell you if I was a health inspector and saw such a practice going on in a restaurant, they would be shut down immediately.

                                                  1. re: tastyvegas

                                                    Good links.

                                                    << But I can tell you if I was a health inspector and saw such a practice going on in a restaurant, they would be shut down immediately. >>

                                                    What would be the justification for this action? Do food inspectors require justification and can this be challenged?

                                                    1. re: Paulustrious

                                                      I don't think they shut anyone down until a few warnings have been issued.

                                                2. Oh, hell to the no. Throw them away.

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: aces551

                                                    Gryphonskeeper (as usual) has offered the only obvious use for USED plastic bags. My frugal Spousal Equivalent likes to wash them and turn them inside out to dry. When I find these in the dish drainer, I fold them neatly and tuck them away in his workshop. He can put tools, nuts, bolts or whatever in them, but they do NOT come back into my kitchen. This is the same guy who insists on keeping ALL food in the fridge, invoking "food safety" as his primary concern. And thanks to Coll for bringing up the hard numbers on this issue. I am printing that out and posting it on the fridge!!

                                                  2. I don't understand why soaking in diluted bleach, along with washing, wouldn't do the trick. As individuals and within institutions, we use entirely too much plastic.

                                                    I wish plastic cost a hell of a lot more, so that we would take more care of such valuable, petroleum-based products.

                                                    Ugh, you people! Think about the sink cycle!

                                                    4 Replies
                                                    1. re: placebonyc

                                                      For the individual with no labor costs it would largely depend on the cost of water, energy to heat the water & the cost of the chemicals all of which eventually re-enter our water supplies via the sewer system.

                                                      For the institution it would be all of the above plus:

                                                      PERSONNEL: Hourly labor rate, possibly healthcare insurance costs which could come close to the hourly labor rate, costs associated with mandatory payments to Social Security / Medicare / Unemployment & Workers Comp and others depending on the State.

                                                      PLANT: On a large scale, square footage would have to be utilized for a sanitizing operation. Every SQ FT of a facility shares the cost operating and maintaining the plant.

                                                      INSURANCE / LITIGATION: Insurance Co's have lots of stipulations relieving them from paying claims. Best to consult with your carrier & a product liability attorney before you knowingly violate USDA Food Safety rules. After that a consult with a criminal attorney well versed in defending voluntary manslaughter charges could well be a good investment.

                                                      I know I come across as a negative jerk on this and I apologize in advance but like so many other feel good concepts it just isn't as simple as many would initially believe.

                                                      1. re: Tom34

                                                        You don't come across negatively or jerkily to me. I didn't want to get into that nitty gritty but I already recognized the costs in labor and energy to the individual, at least. If you come across a comprehensive cost-comparison related to washing out and re-using plastic bags vs. trashing them, please post. By comprehensive I mean at least MENTIONING objectionableness, not just money. For example, think about that Texas-sized raft of plastic spinning in an ocean gyre. Can anybody quantify the objectionableness of THAT? No.

                                                        As for our institutions, it's clear that environmental unfriendliness is baked into too many of the systems in which they participate -- for economic and other human-made reasons.

                                                        Some have posited (Paul Hawken among them) a more service (aka labor-) -intensive economy, as a way better (maybe) to meet the ideals of reduce, reuse and recycle at all levels of society.

                                                        When *I* think of how that would look I imagine paid trash-pickers, ownership of practically nothing (everything leased, serviced), and designed-in separation (per architect William McDonough) of the two waste streams that humans, tragically, have conflated: the organic and the industrial.

                                                        As McDonough says, all waste should be food for SOMETHING, and it's really hard to make it so when paper, plastic, metal, etc. are all mashed together in a single object.

                                                        In other words, a world in which all the expenses and liabilities you cite are planned for, built in, expected -- with associated economic changes.

                                                        Tall Order. But I hate the alternative we have now.

                                                        1. re: placebonyc

                                                          I agree 100% we are not doing enough recycling but it seems each year we get a little better.

                                                          In my town we recycle many paper products, plastics & metals.

                                                          Unfortunately, the smog and global warming folks could make a very powerful argument that the constant stop and start nature of picking up recyclables yields less than 3 miles per gallon, averaging 8,000 - 10,000 gallons of diesel a year per truck.

                                                          Kind of like some cancer treatments where if the cancer doesn't kill you the cure will.

                                                          Very, very complicated subject matter. For individuals, largest positive environmental impact can be made by upgrading to: Higher home R values, high efficiency HVAC systems, energy star appliances, and the grand daddy of them all, getting rid of 5000 lb plus suvs.

                                                          1. re: Tom34

                                                            Agreed, and I'd add: reducing jet-fueled travel. Drastically. For example, for biz events at which live attendance isn't mission-critical.

                                                    2. Four years later, and I'm still standing.

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: Full tummy

                                                        Yup, undead. Just like all the plastic ziplock bags that people have trashed instead of washed and reused since the dawn of this thread.