Origins: The invention of the shopping cart during the Dirty Thirties altered how consumers shopped for groceries by removing the weight of accumulated goods from the equation. Thanks to the new wheeled assistance, those looking to reprovision could shop longer and for greater quantities than in the days when prospective purchases were all toted by hand. But the newfangled gadgets also created yet another common field upon which harmful bacteria and viruses could be easily passed from one person to another, because the handles of shopping carts are grasped by a great many people day in and day out. And, of that horde of shoppers, some will undoubtedly be carrying some nasty bugs on their unwashed hands.
Yet, just as we rarely think about giving our purses, briefcases, and backpacks a good scrub-down, so do shopping carts fly under our germ awareness radar. The very folks that fuss with disposable toilet seat covers often won't think twice about manhandling a grocery cart around a store for half an hour, even though the surface they're hanging onto so fiercely for that interval has likely been coughed on, sneezed on, and grasped by shoppers who'd just finished handling packages of raw chicken and meat, or who just weren't the sort to wash their hands all that often. As for the fold-out child's seat found in most carts, even though it is routinely graced by the diapered bottoms of infants, it remains the cart's transport region of choice for fruits and vegetables, items that are often eaten uncooked or unwashed.
According to a four-year study conducted by the University of Arizona's Environmental Research Lab and sponsored
There are efforts afoot to render these surfaces less germ-laden. In March 2007, a bill (A4109) was introduced into the
Nice-Pak Products of Rockland County, New York, the company that enhanced your fried chicken eating experience with Wet-Naps, has devised
Meanwhile, another system on the market focuses on cleaning the entire cart rather than just parts of it. PureCart is a sort of drive-through washer that sanitizes the whole contraption. It works by coating the carts with a safe mist of a peroxide-based disinfectant, the same solution used to clean dialysis machines and poultry processors.
Critics of the various efforts to clean up the carts point out that a great many things routinely used by the public also harbor germs and viruses, therefore targeting the handles and child seats of shopping carts will not render the common world free of contagion. While it is true that which causes illness also lurks upon the latches of bathroom stall doors, elevator buttons, and stairwell handrails (to name just a few bacterial hot spots), those shared surfaces are generally handled relatively fleetingly compared to the interval the average person hangs onto the handle of a shopping cart or the length of time a leaky-diapered baby or a food item is left resting on the cart's fold-out seat.
Those looking for a less technological approach to staving off the nasties ferried about by their shopping buggies should attempt to fall into the habit of always washing their hands as soon as they return home from any retail foray and eschewing touching their faces or blowing their noses in the interim.
In April 2007, the truth about the nasty state of shopping carts was bent to a hellish purpose when an
Hispanics have no special immunity to staphylococcus. All the statements attributed to
Barbara "cart blanched" Mikkelson
Shared surfaces most favored by germs:
- Household: Kitchen sponge, kitchen sink, toilet bowl, garbage can, refrigerator, bathroom doorknob.
- Workplace: Phone receiver, desktop, keyboard, elevator button, toilet seat.
- Outdoor/public surfaces: Playground equipment, escalator handrail, shopping-cart handle, picnic tables, portable toilet.
- Phone receiver
- Computer keyboard/mouse
- Escalator handrail
- Elevator button
- ATM buttons
- Shopping cart handle
- Kitchen sink
- Subway turnstile
Crosby, Jackie. "Putting the Wash Before the Cart." [Minneapolis] Star Tribune. 23 October 2006 (p. D3). Deam, Jenny. "Sanitized for Your Obsession?" The Denver Post. 19 September 2005 (p. F1). Doty, Cate. "Cleaner Shopping Carts Are Bill's Goal." The New York Times. 7 February 2007 (p. A11). Jones, George. "Staph E-mail Is a Local Hoax." The Sand Mountain Reporter. 21 April 2007. Morley, Hugh. "Wiping Away Grocery Carts' Health Hazards." The [Bergen County] Record. 4 April 2007 (p. B3). Verdon, Joan. "What's on a Shopping Cart Handle?" The [Bergen County] Record. 30 September 2005 (p. B4).