Gross: Here is what you are really touching when you grab a shopping cart

By Amy Davis - Reporter/Consumer Expert

HOUSTON - Every week, most of us grab a shopping cart and steer it around a store to buy groceries. Dozens of hands, food and baby bums could rest on the same cart in just a few hours. We wanted to know what kind of germs the carts are harboring.

KPRC2 consumer expert Amy Davis swabbed the handles of one shopping cart at four stores. Nova Biologicals in Conroe tested the samples. This is what they found: 

H-E-B

Where: 130 Sawdust Road, Spring, TX 77380

What they found: The cart at this location harbored a strain of staph that can cause skin infections. It's called staphylococcus sciuri. Lab tests also showed Escherichia vulneris. Both bacteria are generally recognized as opportunistic pathogens.

"When the right host comes along, when the right person comes along, then these can become infectious," explained Paul J. Pearce, Ph.D. and owner and laboratory director of Nova Biologicals.

H-E-B response: "Thank you for bringing this to our attention. H-E-B is committed to the cleanliness of our stores and providing a safe, clean shopping experience for our customers. Grocery carts are used multiple times a day by multiple people. We continue to encourage all shoppers to wipe their selected cart handles with the courtesy anti-bacterial wipes provided at each store entrance."

Kroger

Where: 4825 Sweetwater Blvd, Sugar Land, TX 

What they found: The cart at this Kroger was contaminated with Acinetobacter baumannii. The microorganism can cause everything from pneumonia to urinary tract infections.

Kroger response: "We care about customer safety and provide sanitation wipes for our customers to use with every visit."

Target

Where: 19955 Katy Freeway, Katy, TX 

What they found: The Target cart harbored bacillus cereus, a toxic microorganism that can cause food poisoning if ingested.

Target response: “While we aren’t able to comment on this test specifically, we strive to provide our guests with a clean and welcoming environment. Our shopping carts are cleaned routinely and we offer sanitizing wipes for guests who wish to use them.”

Walmart

Where: 4900 Garth Rd., Baytown, TX 

What they found: The Walmart handle was contaminated with a strain of staph that is resistant to antibiotics. It's called Staphylococcus xylosus and hominis.

"If a child or someone that's immuno-compromised gets an infection from this type of organism, it can be difficult to treat," Pearce explained.

Walmart response: A spokesperson told KPRC2 they also provide courtesy antibacterial wipes at each store for customers who want to wipe carts down before they use them. 

Those wipes won't work if you don't use them right

Pearce said he found all the normal germs you might expect on a shared surface with high traffic. The biggest concern was the staph that was resistant to antibiotics. He said every cart showed a moderate to high level of environmental contaminants. He said it is a good reminder to wash your hands regularly and use those wipes for the handle of the carts. Unfortunately, he said most people are not using the wipes effectively. Pearce says most of us are doing it too quickly and carelessly to make a difference. 

"You don't get the full contact," he said. "It takes a certain amount of time for it to be effective against germs, against microorganisms."  

He recommends using two wipes, one after the other, slowly wiping the whole handle, giving the disinfectant time to work against the bacteria. 

Pearce says shopping cart covers parents sometimes use so their baby doesn't touch the cart directly can be helpful. But he says you need to wash those periodically, not just throw the cover in the seat of your car. That just transfers the bacteria from the cart to your car.

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