TULSA, Okla. - Grocery shopping is a must, but you may be picking up more at the store than you think.
It depends on what you, your kids, or your food touches. If any come in contact with the wrong thing, a trip to the store could make you seriously ill.
As Quenton’s mom cruises the grocery aisles, he sits in the shopping cart enjoying a piece of candy. It’s sticky, so he alternates between holding the cart handles and licking his fingers.
Any time someone touches shopping cart handles, they pick up or leave germs. When you put meat in the cart’s seat, bacteria like salmonella can transfer to the seat surface. If a child has a messy diaper while sitting in the seat, microscopic bacteria like E. coli can be left behind.
"Those pathogens could be on inanimate objects for days,” said Cassie Clayton, Chief of Nursing at the Morton Health Care Clinic in Tulsa, Okla.
With that in mind, sister-station KJRH-TV enlisted the help of University of Tulsa microbiology graduate student, Ahmed Gad. He randomly swabbed shopping carts at three Tulsa area grocery stores.
“You can find microorganisms everywhere,” he said. “One-third of them appeared to have E. coli,” Gad found.
Every cart sampled tested positive for bacteria. One had Staph aureus on the cart handle and another inside the basket.
“We can’t even imagine what’s on the handles of those shopping carts. We could be getting into E. coli. We could be getting into Staph aureus which leads to MERSA, and we could also be getting into salmonella," Clayton said.
Salmonella, E. coli and Staph aureus are bacteria that cause severe gastro-intestinal illnesses. There are certain uncommon strains that can cause deadly illnesses. A decade’s worth of university and Centers for Disease Control studies find shopping cart seats and handles often have higher bacteria counts than surfaces in public restrooms.
Pathogens found on cart handles and seats can easily transfer to food put in the contaminated areas of carts. Clayton said they can transfer again when you get your groceries home.
“That transmission going from your groceries to your counter to your, you know, all over your house with anything you may touch," said Clayton.
And if you think a quick swipe with an antibacterial wipe gets rid of the germs, think again. Researchers said the sanitizing wipes provided by many retailers mainly used ammonium-based compounds which require at least 10 minutes of contact time to kill pathogens.
Wiping longer isn’t necessary, according to the same researchers, as long as you take some other precautions as well.
Health experts say if you want to be extra careful with germs, bring some plastic bags when you shop. You can wrap them around the cart handle so you and your children don’t directly touch it. You can also place the bags on the seat to put a barrier between the seat and your food, your purse, your child, or whatever you place in that space.
You’re also advised to put meats and vegetables in plastic bags before putting them in your cart. It minimizes the risk of cross contamination. Also, always wash your produce when you get it home.
Grocery stores where Gad swabbed carts and others that KJRH contacted say they provide customers with several options to prevent the spread of germs: sanitizing wipes in cart areas, plastic bags in meat and produce areas and the regular washing of carts.