News 11 Special Report: The Cart Test

Reported by Lauren Lowrey email
Posted by Kate Oatis email

"Clean up on aisle one!"

No, it's not a spill, drip or dribble. It's your grocery cart -- and what could be lurking on it may surprise you.

Just one grocery cart seat and handle can be covered in up to 1 million germs!

How should you protect yourself?

Well, 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 says.

With a young son, the thought of a cart covered in germs really bugs her.

"I really think about e. Coli. I think about salmonella."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, riding in a shopping cart beside meat and poultry is risky for children, especially infants younger than 6 months of age.

In fact, food-borne bacteria is the cause of 76 million illnesses and 5,000 deaths every year.

But microbiologist and germ guru Dr. Chuck Gerba says food-borne bacteria shouldn't be your only concern.

He recently completed an eye-opening study on shopping carts.

"Overall, slightly more than 60 to 70 percent of the carts had fecal bacteria on them, and usually hundreds of thousands of bacteria on the average shopping cart," Gerba said.

That means there were more bacteria than in other areas he tested, including public phones and public restrooms.

"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," Gerba.

Now supermarkets are taking action. Some have installed cart sanitizing systems like Pure Cart.

President Jim Kratowicz says it's a simple "push through" cleaning machine.

"Every time a cart is collected, the intent is that it goes through our system and a fine mist is applied to the cart," Kratowicz says.

The company's research shows it kills 99.9 percent of bacteria, including salmonella, staph and listeria. Kratowicz says it meets strict government standards for its claims.

"The base solution that's used is EPA/FDA approved. It is safe for human and food contact," Kratowicz says.

Other grocers choose to provide disposable sanitary wipes for customers.

Michele swipes the wipes whenever they're available.

"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," she says.

One popular brand: the Nice-pak Sani-cart wipe. It promises to kill nearly 100 percent of bacteria and is also EPA registered.

"We provide stands, which contain hundreds of these wipes in several canisters," says Matt Schiering with Nice-pak.

If a store doesn't provide the opportunity to clean your cart, you can arm yourself with your own pack of wipes.

And make sure to wash your hands as soon as you can get to a sink.