Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=182722
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Nearly 75 percent of shopping carts were found to have fecal matter on them, according to a new study.


Fecal bacteria on your grocery carts more than in a public restroom, according to study

by Bernard A. Lubell
March 10, 2011


Poop is a playful word indeed. But it’s not so funny when scientists find fecal bacteria in your grocery cart in between your tilapia, blueberries and squash—a whopping 72 percent of the time. 
 
According to newly released study findings, researchers from the University of Arizona swabbed carts across five metropolitan areas and found the fecal bacteria. Even more, they found Escherichia coli, commonly known as E.coli, in 50 percent of the carts.
 
The research poses either a unique public health concern or a pseudo-nightmare if the results are interpreted too seriously. 
 
Dr. Samuel Grief, associate professor of clinical family medicine at the University of Illinois at Chicago, discussed the study and how Chicagoans should react. The take home message: don’t panic.  
  
Q: Are the results of this study surprising to you?
A: I don’t take this as surprising for any person who has gone to a local supermarket. First of all, no disrespect to anyone, however, children obviously are not as inclined to be washing their hands and keeping fingers out of their mouths. So when children put hands on shopping carts, it’s very likely they will transmit organisms via fecal matter or other organisms—not the only organisms I believe are found. There is a whole menagerie of bacteria and viruses lurking on grocery carts.
 
Q: How can people protect themselves?
A: Sometimes it’s good to be a little extra prudent with respect to wiping things down, not that this is a common practice among the lay people. If you’re carrying a disinfectant wipe, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to wipe down carts, similar to wiping down a desktop when using a common shared computer. That would be likely to eradicate a majority of the E. coli. The E. coli that they found that is of fecal origin, not necessarily pathologic. These could cause outbreaks of salmonella. 
 
Q: But is this something Chicagoans should seriously be concerned about?
A: I would say yes because bacteria lurk everywhere and not all of them are safe. The same approach would be if you’re not sure where this just came from, or the cleaning practices of the establishment you’re in, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to wipe it down.
 
Q: Is there really more bacteria on shopping carts than in bathrooms? 
A: What I think they’re trying to say is that the level of bacteria on these carts is at a much higher rate than you would normally find on a bathroom counter in a public restroom. The possible reason for that is that nobody really washes their hands in the supermarket, people do clean public restrooms. 
 
Q: What would you say to the moms and dads out there who take their kids food shopping?
A: The child should be told don’t touch the cart. Let’s wipe the child’s hands and the cart then put them in. Then they can be relatively calm about touching it once they’ve wiped it down. Never hurts to wipe their hands again. It’s prudent common sense. 
 
Q: Moving forward, how can grocery stores combat this issue?
A: Place wipes around grocery stories so people can wipe their hands and won’t be likely to pass on organisms. Whole Foods [supermarket] has the wipes. They aren’t trying to create obsession among lay public—and causing chapped hands—but on the other hand, if you don’t play it safe, then you may be the next victim of unsuspecting bacteria.