A new study showed that fecal bacteria could be found on a majority of shopping carts.  The study was conducted by researchers at the University of Arizona, in Tucson.  The carts were sampled in four different states.   According to this report, of the 85 carts examined, 72 percent turned out to have a marker for fecal bacteria.  It was further noted:

The researchers took a closer look at the samples from 36 carts and discovered Escherichia coli, more commonly known as E. coli, on 50 percent of them — along with a host of other types of bacteria.

The lead researcher on the study was quoted discussing the significance of the finding:

grocery cart black.gif“That’s more than you find in a supermarket’s restroom,” said 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.”

We reported on this blog recently of a study from Ireland that showed riding in grocery carts to be arisk factor for toddlers with respect to Salmonella infection.

Still, others pointed to a lack of any documented disease outbreak traced back to an actual exposure in such a situation:

One thing Gerba couldn’t say was how likely it was that a child would get sick from touching — or even sucking on — a contaminated handle.

As far as Dr. Neil Fishman is concerned, that risk isn’t very big. “I’d be worried if there was any evidence of any disease outbreaks related to shopping cart use,” said Fishman, an infectious disease expert and director of health care epidemiology and infection prevention at the University of Pennsylvania Health System. “There isn’t — and we’ve been using them for a long time. My guess is that there are more bacteria on a car seat than on a shopping cart.”

So, then, what do we think of grocery carts?  As a parent myself, I am inclined to go with a “better safe than sorry” approach – within reason.  If there is something simple I can do to reduce risk, then why find out the hard way which expert is closer to the truth.

The good news, there are some simple approaches to help either way.  First, the shopping cart:

The best way to keep kids safe, Gerba said, is to swipe the shopping cart handle with a disinfecting wipe before you pop your kid into the basket.

Or if you agree with Dr. Fishman that the environmental risk is more general, here is a good tip that is applicable everywhere:

“While you can’t sterilize your environment, you can limit exposure by practicing good hand hygiene,” he added.

If you want the best information on handwashing, the CDC has it covered – “Handwashing Saves Lives!”