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The Dark and Ugly Side of Grocery Shopping

Grocery Shopping

Did you know that grocery store shopping carts carry more germs than public bathrooms? When you are at home, we hope that you follow food safety precautions when preparing and storing the food you buy at the grocery. But we do also want to make sure your food is safe before you bring it home as well.

A University of Arizona study found that 72% of shopping cart handles in four states had markers of fecal bacteria. Fifty percent were contaminated with E. coli. “That’s more than you find in a supermarket’s restroom,” said Charles Gerba, a professor of microbiology and the lead researcher on the study. “That’s because they use disinfecting cleaners in the restrooms. Nobody routinely cleans and disinfects shopping carts.”

Other bacteria found were salmonella a campylobacter, two common causes of food poisioning.

After the study was released, you may have noticed your favorite stores started putting sanitizer wipes at the entrance where the shopping carts are kept. Do you use them? Hopefully after you read this, you will. Better yet, keep some in your purse or car to use if the store does not provide them.

If you have children, it is recommended to use a seat cover to protect him or her. Not shopping with a child, think about the last person who might have, and do not put your food in the seat of the cart.

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Where else might you find germs in the grocery? Remembering that bacteria love non-smooth surfaces, moisture and warmth, the most likely locations are the produce aisles and places where they offer deli samples.

At the checkout, remember that the conveyor belt may or may not have been recently cleaned. Think about a busy shopping time, such as just before thanksgiving or Christmas. The person (or persons) ahead of you may have had dripping chicken which is still on the belt because the store is trying to help customers get through the lines. Even during non-busy times, belts are considered a “non-food surface” and are not subject to inspection.

The most common contaminant of grocery conveyor belts? Mold. Remember to never let any unbagged food touch the belt. And when you are home, be sure that you wash produce carefully before eating or cooking.

Are you diligent about bringing reusable bags to the grocery to save the planet from plastic loading up the landfills? Remember that these bags are DIRTY. 97% of shoppers are guilty about not washing their shopping bags between store visits. Also, when bringing your own bags, you may not be as careful about separating ready-to-eat foods from raw meats – resulting in a greater risk for food contamination.

And just so we are clear – grocery bags are for groceries. If you use the bag for dirty gym clothes or your kids sleep over pajamas, they likely need a good washing before they carry home your family’s meals.



Thanks for reminding people to wash their cloth grocery bags. I've been using canvas/etc. bags for more than 30 years for all my shopping. I encourage everyone to keep several bags in their car at all times and to toss them into the wash regularly. I have about 15 bags and am never at a loss to some available when I need them. Thanks for the article!