Here is a study just released in Food Protection Trends. The study shows that grocery carts are a bit unsanitary as indicated by the presence of bacterial indicators (APC, coliforms, generic E. coli). While the study is a bit soft in the methodology (should have actually checked for pathogens, should have used better methods for testing), it does show that shopping carts are not the cleanest things in the world, and there is the possibility that carts can be a source of contamination, primarily children riding in those carts (putting their fingers on the cart seat and then sticking those same fingers in their mouth).
But before we all go crazy worrying about grocery carts, it is important to point out this is just one of many risks that we all face each day. How about that grass where the kid is crawling….might that be a place where birds, dogs, or cats may have pooped? The refrigerator where juices from raw meats may have dripped…did it get on the apples?. That grocery store conveyor, where the packs of raw meat may have dripped…could those drops contaminated your other food packages?. How about those reusable grocery bags that never get washed after being used to carry raw meat? Where did you put your hands while eating lunch on a park bench where earlier, a group of the pigeons deposited their load as they flew by? Certainly it is important that we take precautionary measures such as washing our hands, cooking our food, and washing our grocery bags, but for each study that comes out that demonstrating the somewhat obvious, we cannot let the potential of contacting a contaminated surface become the bane of our lives. As they say, the key to a healthy immune system is a constant challenge.
Bacterial Contamination of Shopping Carts and Approaches to Control
Charles P. Gerba* and Sheri Maxwell
Dept. of Soil, Water and Environmental Science, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ 85721, USA
Food Protection Trends, Vol. 32, No. 12, Pages 747–749
Placing children in grocery shopping carts has been implicated recently as a source of infection with Salmonella and Campylobacter in young children. This study was conducted to assess the occurrence total bacteria, coliform bacteria and Escherichia coli on grocery shopping cart handles and seats. A total of 85 shopping carts in parking lots of grocery stores were tested in five major metropolitan areas across the United States. The total numbers of heterotrophic bacteria were as great as 1.1 × 107 on the handle and seat. Coliforms were detected on 72% (62) of the carts. E. coli was identified on 18 of 35 carts (51%) on which coliform identification was conducted. The results of this study suggest the need for improved sanitation of shopping cards/baskets to reduce exposure to pathogens and potential transmission of microbial infections among shoppers.