When I pop my two-year-old in the front of a shopping cart at the grocery store I do feel a little squeamish. I’m also known to run slightly anxious in this way, though — with personal rules like never make skin contact with hotel duvets.
But a study by researchers at the University of Arizona now tells me that my germ-a-phob radar is spot on: the scientists took swabs from store carts in four states and found that 72 percent had a marker for fecal bacteria. E-coli was found on 50 percent of the carts, along with a host of other bugs.
As msnbc reported, “That’s more than you find in a supermarket’s restroom,” according to Charles Gerba, the lead researcher on the study and a professor of microbiology at the University of Arizona. “That’s because they use disinfecting cleaners in the restrooms. Nobody routinely cleans and disinfects shopping carts.”
And kids who ride in carts have been found to get sick more often with bacteria like salmonella and campylobacter.
So is this something we should worry about? Besides the yuck factor, are our little shopping cart riders at risk?
According to epidemiology and infectious disease experts at UPenn, the grocery cart bacteria findings are probably representative of many common object we touch in our lives — doorknobs and so forth. One noted that a car seat probably has more bacteria on it than a grocery cart.
My feeling: sure, but only your kid and his resident bacteria get in that seat (I know it’s more complicated than that) — but a grocery cart is a communal rotating bacterial door.
The prevailing wisdom is that unless researchers can link an infectious disease outbreak to shopping carts, they’re probably not dangerous. Still some grocery store chains (like Whole Foods) are catching on and starting to offer antibacterial wipes at the entrance to the store so people can give their cart handles a good wipe down before they push off.
Needless to say, I know germs are a fact of life and we can’t (and shouldn’t) try to live in a hygienic bubble. But still, I think I’ll pop a little bottle of hand sanitizer in my purse before I go shopping next time.