Shopping Cart Sterilization Hype or Necessity

Infection control over the ages has been analyzing the various sources, causes, and solution of infection through bacteria in public places. In recent years, University of Arizona microbiologist Charles Gerba, PhD, sometimes called “Dr. Germ” has been conducting various studies on hot spots of infection in various public places.

Shocking as it may sound; Dr. Gerba found that shopping carts are havens for E. coli and other bacteria that can cause severe infections. But what is the reason for the same? According to Dr. Gerba’s study, placement of children in grocery shopping carts has recently been implicated as a source of infection with Salmonella and Campylobacter infections in young children. This study was conducted to assess the occurrence of total numbers of bacteria, coliform bacteria and Escherichia coli on grocery shopping cart handles and seats.

A total of 85 shopping carts in parking lots of grocery stores were tested in five major metropolitan areas across the United States. The total number of heterotrophic bacteria averaged 117,000 per sampled area. Coliforms were detected on 72% of the carts, and E. coli identified on 50% of the carts tested. Shopping carts appear to be one of the most bacterially contaminated objects that the general public may come into contact on a regular basis in public facilities. The exceptionally high level of coliform bacteria suggests that fecal material may be involved in cart contamination. The results of this study reaffirm the need for improved sanitation of shopping cards/baskets to reduce exposure and potential transmission of microbial infections among shoppers.

Recent studies have shown that children are at increased risk of both Salmonella and Camplyobacter infections if they ride in a shopping cart carrying meat products (Jones et al., 2006; Fullterton et al., 2007; Patrick et al., 2010). This suggests that exposure of children to enteric bacterial pathogens in shopping carts occurs on a regular basis. Mizumachi et al. (2010) also reported frequent exposure to pathogenic Staphylococcus aureus on shopping cart handles and suggested that this was a hidden reservoir of this organism and the need for shopping basket sanitation. Contamination of shopping carts may occur from direct handling of raw food products, contamination of the cart from previous users.

Table.1. Bacterial concentrations detected on shopping carts

Bacteria Average Minimum Maximum Average per sq. cm
Total 3.43 X 105 110 1.1 X 107 513
Coliforms ≥767 <3 >7,259 ≥1.1

Table 2. Types of enteric bacteria detected on shopping carts (36 tested)

Bacteria isolated Number of Carts
Escherichia coli 18
Klebsiella pneumoniae 5
Enterobacter sakazkii 6
Enterobacteria cloascae 2
Klebsiella oxytoca 1
Yersina pseudotuberculosis 1

So what is the solution to the problem? Echoing what our parents and elders have been saying right from childhood, wash your hands as often as possible using soap or any disinfectant. Grocery stores and supermarkets have been handing out sanitizing wipes at the front door to help prevent the spread of germs on shopping carts.

Thankfully, there is a much more extensive solution to the problem. Cleaning agencies and companies like The Cleaning Partners have been offering Sterilization services to supermarkets and grocery stores to sterilize their shopping carts. These industrial cleaning solutions are similar but more effective than car washes, and use combinations of methods like high-pressure and high-temperature washing, and sterilization using ultraviolet light, hydrogen peroxide and other chemical reagents.

End of the day, it’s not just the customers’ prerogative to stay clean. Supermarkets and grocery stores now acknowledge that, their nature of business necessitates industrial-grade cleaning solutions at their premise, for a safe shopping experience.

Sources: Webmd.com, microbearmour.com, germaphobes.com, Univ of Arizona

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