EINNEWS, November 19—Federal officials are gathering information on the lead content of reusable grocery bags, even as grocery chains throughout the U.S. are scrambling to test the safety of bags they sell.

Spokesmen for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration confirm that they are looking into the question in response to a deluge of requests from lawmakers and publicity that has turned the grocery bag issue inside out.

Los Angeles County supervisors this week voted to ban the use of all plastic bags in grocery and drug stores effective in July, 2011.

That was one of the stiffest actions yet taken by any jurisdiction to reduce the number of plastic bags clogging the environment.

Earlier this year, Washington, DC placed a 5-cent a bag tax on each plastic or paper bag used. That action has resulted in up to a 50 percent reduction in bag use.

Just as the fight against plastic bags was gaining momentum, however, the Tampa Tribune newspaper conducted a study that found elevated levels of lead in highly decorated bags, particularly those manufactured in China. Recent tests elsewhere have called into question potential bacteria dangers of reusing bags with unpackaged content.

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor called on the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission to investigate the issue, and has called for hearings in the House of Representatives. Lead is considered a toxin, and can cause learning disabilities in children and fertility problems in adults.

In 2006 the FDA warned manufacturers and retailers that lead was showing up in childrens lunchboxes that could contaminate food inside.

The Tampa Tribune’s tests found elevated levels of lead in bags at Publix and Winn-Dixie. Following the Tribune reports, Winn-Dixie stopped selling any of its reusable bags and pulled existing bags from shelves as a precaution.

Publix officials say their bags comply with current federal laws, but offered refunds to customers with concerns.

Testing on relatively plain bags from Target, Walmart had such low levels of lead that the chemical was nearly undetectable.

For more food news, visit Food Industry Today (http://food.einnews.com), a food media monitoring service from EIN News.