Hidden Hazards: Shopping Carts - KCBD NewsChannel 11 Lubbock

7/7/05

Hidden Hazards: Shopping Carts

When you go shopping and it's your turn to push a cart, do you ever wonder what others are leaving behind on the handle you grab? We begin a four week health investigation into the cleanliness of some things we come in contact with everyday, starting with shopping carts.

Stacy Edwards is a mom concerned about what she can't see on this shopping cart. "All these are going to be dirty and germy when you get them." Stacy worries about her kids being exposed to dangerous germs. "If the things were never cleaned you can get a build up of different organisms," she says.

Dr. Jane Kolmer Hamood is a microbiology research assistant professor at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center. She says with the hundreds of hands touching these carts everyday, you never know what kind of germs you're being exposed to. "We never think about when we touch and rub our nose or pick something to eat or scratch your eye or whatever. It's surprising to find how many organisms there are," say Dr. Hamood.

With the help of Rita Yee, a specialist in microbiology at UMC, we tested the germs on shopping carts. We wanted to know if they posed a potential health risk for kids and parents using them everyday. So, armed with clinical swabs, we visited four local grocery and super stores: Albertson's, United, Target and Walmart.

We swabbed two carts at each store. After collecting the 8 samples, we took our swabs to the lab where the organisms we collected were incubated and allowed to grow. Just a couple of days later we went back to the lab to see what was growing. "Nothing really surprised me with what we found." said Rita Yee.

Some carts had more bacteria than others, so let's start with the dirtiest. Albertson's had two sets of carts that had quite a bit of bacteria...so much bacteria that further testing was required. "We actually did a gram stain of that yellow, dry colony and it just turned out to be a basicllus," said Rita. Basicllus is simply a natural bacteria found in our environment.

Coming in at a close second to being the dirtiest, the carts from Target and United. "Target had one that had a lot of bacteria," said Rita. A manager from Target tells us they clean the carts only when they look dirty. In that case, employees use an antibacterial cleaner. If the cart is soiled with an unidentifiable substance, we're told only then will they use a bleach and water mix. But fortunately, germs found on United's carts weren't as serious as they looked.

The carts with the least amount of growth were from Walmart. "These actually looked a lot cleaner than I thought they would to be honest," said Rita.

Tests showed the types of bacteria we collected were normal, often found on the skin and in our environment, but our specialist says even those bacteria can lead to sickness. "It's only if you had a wound and it got into your wound that it could cause infection," says Rita. To be safe, Rita suggests simply washing your hands regularly, especially after coming in contact with public shopping carts.

Or you can take extra precautions like Lubbock mom Angie Mountz does every time. "I take a Clorox wipe and wipe it down before we put [my son] in it."

Remember, the law does not require stores to have shopping cart cleaning policies. Next week Suleika tests the cleanliness of door handles at public restrooms.

We spoke with Eddie Owens with United Supermarket and he tell us shopping carts are cleaned professionally two to three times a year. Owens adds the store is looking into offering antibacterial wipes for customers using shopping carts.

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