Germs lurking on shopping carts

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10:44 PM PST on Thursday, November 6, 2008


Before Michele Samuels grabs 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 child, Michele worries about the kinds of germs her son is exposed to.

"I really think about E. coli. I think about Salmonella," she said.

The Centers For Disease Control and Prevention say riding in a shopping cart contaminated by meat and poultry can be dangerous for children, especially infants.

Food borne bacteria cause more than 76 million illnesses and 5,000 deaths each year.

But microbiologist Chuck Gerba warns that food-borne bacteria isn't the only thing lurking on shopping carts.

"Overall, slightly more than 60-70 percent of the carts had fecal bacteria on them, and usually hundreds of thousands of bacteria on the average shopping cart," he said. "Probably because of the large number of people using it, the handling of raw food products. You're probably putting your broccoli right where some kid's bottom was."

Some supermarkets have installed the cart sanitizing system, pure-cart. Company research shows it kills 99.9 percent of bacteria, including salmonella, staph and listeria.

"Every time a cart is collected, the intent is that it goes through our system and a fine mist is applied to the cart," said Jim Kratowicz, PureCart Systems. "The base solution that's used is EPA/FDA approved. It is safe for human and food contact."

Other stores provide disposable sanitary wipes so customers can do their own clean up. The popular brand "Nice-Pak Sani-Cart Wipe" promises to kill nearly 100 percent of bacteria.

"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," said Michele.

But if your grocer doesn't provide you a way to clean your cart, then Dr. Gerba suggests arming yourself with your own cleaning agent.

"The use of alcohol gel sanitizer is a good thing to carry with you," he said.

Wash your hands after shopping and try putting food into reusable fabric shopping bags as you shop to keep your food away from unwanted bacteria.

Finally, if your grocer doesn't provide a way to clean your carts, experts say just ask them to.



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