No Need To Panic Over Lead In Grocery Bags

  • Nov 26, 2010

Reusable grocery bags can be imprinted safely

Recently, several grocery store chains, including Publix, Sweetbay, Winn-Dixie, Walmart and Target, reported the existence of varying levels of lead in some reusable grocery bags. A firestorm of news coverage, questions, inquiries and concerns followed that announcement.

We did a little research to separate fact from fiction. According to Specialized Technology Resources (STR), a well-respected, CPSC-authorized testing lab, there are no federal regulatory requirements that apply to bags, unless the item is intended to hold food — then applicable FDA requirements would apply. Reusable grocery bags would not fall under the FDA guidelines—generally these bags are intended primarily to hold pre-packaged food items.

The bags in question are not children’s products, therefore they would not be regulated by the CPSIA and no third-party testing would be required. An over-abundance of caution is once again in play, as the manufacturers of those bags are fully compliant with existing Federal regulations.

An investigative series published in the Tampa Tribune claims its independent testing found lead in several reusable grocery bags sold by five different retailers in Florida. The report has led U.S. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) to call for a federal investigation to determine the scope of the public health risk. "Federal agencies need to put a ban in place for reusable bags that have lead in them," Schumer said. "Any situation where lead bags are coming into contact with the food being purchased by Americans needs to be immediately investigated and resolved."


The bags, sold at Winn-Dixie, Publix, Sweetbay, Wal-Mart and Target, contained levels of lead that fall within current government allowances, but are higher than the soon-to-be-enacted federal standard of 100 parts-per-million in paint and children's products. Although painted illustrations on the bags contain lead in a form that is not easily leached, lab experts say over time toxins can be released as threads wear down and paint flakes off. Also, if the bags were to be thrown away, the lead levels are elevated enough to cause potential hazards in places like landfills, according to guidelines set by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Typical of recent product recalls, the issue comes not from the base product but from the way in which it is decorated. Due to the very high quantities used by major chains, the bags are generally produced and decorated in China. Though China does produce many (not all) of the bags we sell at APTCO, in almost every instance we print or embroider them in the US. Our factory partners do random safety inspections regularly, and we make these reports available on request. We understand that product safety is the bedrock upon which our products stand.

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