Shopping Cart
Did you know that a shopping cart has more bacteria than a toilet handle or that grocery store produce has 253-times more bacteria than a video game controller? To celebrate their 10-year anniversary of making “green” grocery bags, the team at California-based Reuse This Bag compiled a comprehensive study on the bacteria found in grocery stores. Getty Images

You prepare for your shopping trip by making a list, scouring for deals and coupons, and packing reusable bags. But once you get to the store, do you use the cart wipes? Grocery carts are ridden with germs. When shopping for food, you may be making yourself sick by carting around millions of bacteria.

To understand the “gross” in grocery store, Reuse This Bag swabbed shopping carts from four different stores: traditional, budget, superstore, and upscale. The results are shocking, and it might make you rethink your next shopping trip.

According to Reuse This Bag, traditional grocery stores, by far, had the highest bacteria count. Grocery carts at regular and budget stores carry hundreds of times more colony-forming units per square inch than surfaces in your bathroom. Their results show that a cart at a traditional grocery store has over 73,000 CFU/sq. in. – 361 times more CFU/sq. in. than a bathroom doorknob. More so, a shopping cart at a budget store has 270 times more CFU/sq. in. than your average toilet handle.

Superstores follow with over 1,000 CFU/sq. in., which is nearly triple the bacteria on an average kitchen countertop. However, carts at upscale markets had impressive results, with just 28 CFU/sq. in. – about the same as a computer keyboard.

Of all the bacteria present on shopping cart handles, nearly 75 percent were identified as gram-negative rods. Over 90 percent of gram-negative rods can be harmful to humans, and to make it worse, most types are resistant to antibiotics. Another 24 percent of surface bacteria were identified as gram-positive rods. Although most forms of these bacteria are harmless, they can lead to other illnesses.

Germ Breakdown
Germ breakdown of groceries cart. Reuse This Bag

Over 88 percent of surface bacteria at superstores contained gram-negative rods – far more than any other grocery store. Both superstores and traditional grocery store samples contained more than 80 percent of gram-negative rods (keep in mind that over 90 percent of gram-negative rods are harmful to humans). To compare, budget stores had fewer than 20 percent, while upscale store samples contained no traces of gram-negative rods. In addition to the most gram-negative rods, superstores had the most gram-positive cocci at almost 5 percent.

According to the Food Marketing Institute, 85 percent of consumers routinely visit traditional grocery stores. In comparison, only 11 percent of consumers visit upscale stores to complete their shopping list. Refrigerator doors at a traditional grocery store had nearly 327,000 CFU/sq. in. Imagine all the people reaching for these door handles, passing the germs that might already be on their hands over to the door and onto the next person. For comparison, the average pet toy had 18,940 CFU/sq. in. Even the bottom of a handbag had less than 10 CFU/sq. in. of dirty microbes.

Reuse This Bag research revealed that over 58 percent of the germs covering grocery store refrigerator doors were identified as gram-positive rods. While some research has linked gram-positive bacteria to healthtreatments, they can sometimes be pathogenic, leading to negative side effects and harmful diseases.

Grocery stores are where we find the fruits, vegetables, meats, and grains we use to feed our families. In 2016, the average American visited the grocery store more than once a week. Unfortunately, the surfaces we touch (and even the food we pick up) can be covered in millions of harmful bacteria.

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