Taking the gross out of the grocery cart

Source of Article:  http://www.dailyherald.com/story/?id=252831&src=120

The Wall Street Journal


Published: 11/24/2008 12:15 AM


When Brad Blaine grabbed a cart on a recent run to the Chevy Chase Supermarket in suburban Maryland, he noticed it was a little moist.

He was puzzled, he says, until he figured out that the cart had been pushed through a sort of car wash for shopping carts - a hut set up at the store that mists a disinfecting peroxide solution onto carts as they're pushed through.

"As soon as I realized what it was, I felt, 'Here's a store that's going through the trouble to make sure customers feel safe,'" says the 48-year-old dad.

The cart wash represents the latest effort from both entrepreneurs and grocers to take the gross out of grocery carts. Though hardly Public Enemy No. 1, shopping carts are gaining a reputation as one of the dirtiest public places, with some found to harbor such microbial villains as the diarrhea-causing campylobacter and the potentially deadly salmonella.

Cleansing-wipe dispensers have been appearing next to shopping carts at grocery stores for some years now. But a host of other products have emerged to appease germophobes who shop. These new offerings include protective covers that minimize infants' contact with the seat, full-cart liners and portable, snap-on handles carried by consumers.

No one disputes that carts harbor microbes. In a study released last year, University of Arizona researchers who sampled bacterial content on 60 grocery-store shopping carts in the Los Angeles area found that cart surfaces had exponentially more bacteria than what they had measured in about 100 public restrooms, from toilet seats to flush handles.

And a 2006 study of 442 infected infants in eight states by the Centers for Disease Control showed that riding in shopping carts next to meat was one of the biggest identified risk factors for salmonella infection in infants, right below reptile exposure and consumption of partially cooked eggs.

Still, some public-health experts scoff at the emergence of cart-sanitizing products, saying the best flu prevention comes from remembering to wash your hands. "It is a futile endeavor to strive for an antiseptic environment," says Rolf Halden, professor at Arizona State University who is an expert in public-health issues. "The consumerism of producing more and more products to try to achieve something unsustainable makes no sense."

Elaine Larson, a professor at Columbia University School of Nursing, adds: "Common sense says that shopping carts should be cleaned every now and then." But, she says, "in the relative risk of things, it's way down on the priority list."

So far, it has been hard to gauge the appetite for this arsenal of new cleaning products. With sales of $25 million a year, wipes provided at the grocery store are still a small part of the entire $1.8 billion wipes industry, but are growing about twice as fast as other types of wipes, estimates Mike Richardson, industry analyst for the Freedonia Group in Cleveland, which has studied this market.

Still, relatively few grocery shoppers are reaching for the wipes they see in stores. Purell wipes, made by GoJo Industries Inc., are used by only 5 percent of customers in the first year the dispensers are installed in a store, though more shoppers tend to use them in subsequent years as the behavior "normalizes," says John DePace, GoJo's director of market development for grocery. Another brand of wipes, called SaniCart, is used by between 15 percent to 20 percent of customers in stores where the wipes are provided, a spokesman for manufacturer Nice-Pak says.

Meanwhile, the manufacturer of the cart wash Blaine used argues that grocers - not customers - should ensure the cleanliness of carts. "We like the idea of wipes, but what's the message?" says Jim Kratowicz, president of PureCart, Green Bay, Wis. "Our carts are dirty, here's a rag, go clean it?"

PureCart's cleaning devices, launched two years ago, are now in 21 grocery stores in the U.S. Each machine costs about $7,500 a year for a store to rent; the company tells grocers that stores that provide the machines will draw more customers.

Other products are targeted directly to consumers. A number of Whole Foods Market Inc. stores sell protective liners for mothers who put babies in carts. Made by Pelham, N.H.-based Babe Ease LLC, the Clean Shopper is a coverlet that allows the baby to sit in the cart without coming into direct contact with it. The product retails for about $30.

Marge Dandy and her husband came up with the idea for another variation on the theme, the Healthy Handle, after Ms. Dandy, who had just completed cancer treatments, cut her hand on a plastic shopping cart handle. The product is made from plastic and snaps over the handle. The Dandys, who live in Shawnee, Okla., have sold about 5,000 Healthy Handles since launching their Web site, thehealthyhandle.com, two years ago. The handles retail for about $10 each.



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