What is lurking in your grocery cart may surprise you. An eye-opening new study shows that shopping carts can carry thousands of bacteria that could be deadly to you or your children. Just one grocery cart seat can be covered in filth and bacteria, and one handle can be covered in up to one-million germs. How do you protect yourself?
Before Michele Samuels uses a grocery cart, she does a sanitation investigation. "I'll find candy wrappers, or spilled sodas, or pieces of fruit or vegetable," she said. With a young son, Samuels says the thought of a cart covered in bacteria really bothers her. "I really think about E.coli -
I think about Salmonella."
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP), letting children ride in a shopping cart next to meat and poultry is a risky move - especially for infants younger than six months old. Food borne bacteria is the cause of 76 million illnesses and 5,000 deaths per year.
Microbiologist and germ guru Dr. Chuck Gerba says that food borne bacteria shouldn't be a shopper's only concern. He recently completed an eye-opening study on shopping carts. Overall, slightly more than 60/70% of the carts had fecal bacteria on them, and usually hundreds of thousands of bacteria on the average shopping cart," he said.
Gerba says the buggies were covered in more bacteria than other areas that he tested, such as public phones and public restrooms. "Probably because of the large number of people using it - the handling of raw food products," he said. "You're probably putting your broccoli right where some kid's bottom was."
Supermarkets are taking action, and some have installed cart sanitizing systems such as "Pure Cart." Jim Kratowicz, President of "Pure Cart" says the system is a simple push-through cleaning machine. "Every time a cart is collected, the intent is that it goes through our system and a fine mist is applied to the cart," he said. The company's research shows that the system kills 99.9% of bacteria - including salmonella, staph, and listeria.
Kratowicz says the "Pure Cart" system meets strict governmental standards for its claims. "The base solution that's used is EPA/FDA approved - It is safe for human and food contact." Other grocers choose to provide disposable sanitary wipes for customers. Samuels uses the wipes whenever they're available. "It makes me feel like at least on the cart - when I'm touching the cart, or my son is holding on to the cart - that it's at least cleaned off some of the germs," she said.
One popular brand of sanitary wipes is the "Nice-Pak Sani-Cart Wipe." It promises to kill almost 100% of bacteria, and is EPA registered. They can be found in stands that contain hundreds of the wipes in containers. But, what if your store doesn't provide the opportunity to clean your cart? Dr. Gerbas says you can arm yourself with your own pack of wipes. "Alcohol gel sanitizer is a good thing to carry with you."
Finally, wash your hands as soon as you can get to a sink. Samuels says she adds an extra layer of protection by placing her food directly into fabric shopping bags that she can later wash - it gives her peace of mind. "I try to be careful and cautious about the cleanliness of my food without being manic about it," she said.
"Pure Cart" is being used by more than 20 grocery stories across the country, and "Sani-Wipes" can be found in more than 1,500 individual stores. If your grocery store does not provide a way to clean your cart, experts recommend you ask them to.