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article imageStudy: E.coli contamination found on half of shopping carts Special

By Vincent Sobotka     Mar 14, 2011 in Health
On your next trip to the grocery store, be aware, much more than groceries may be riding in your shopping cart. More bacteria exists in these carts than in public bathrooms or on a city bus, and children may be the most at risk.
It's probably overlooked by many, but according to new research, the amount of harmful bacteria on grocery shopping carts is enough to raise quite the concern. Researchers say, in fact, that so much bacteria exists on the seats and handles of shopping carts that the only thing sanitary wipes are likely to accomplish is peace of mind for the unsuspecting shopper.
From the University of Arizona, Dr. Charles P. Gerba and Sherri Maxwell performed studies on shopping carts in grocery store parking lots across five major-metropolitan areas.
"We tested Sioux City, Iowa, San Francisco and Los Angeles, California, Portland, Oregon and Atlanta, Georgia," said Dr. Gerba during an interview following the announcement of his study. "We only tested shopping carts from grocery stores," he continued to detail the study, "and we only tested carts from the parking lot - nothing inside."
Several references are made in the report to researchers who have recently proved that raw meat products are commonly contaminated with bacteria considered infectious to the intestines. Further studies have also shown that children who ride in the seat of a shopping cart are regularly exposed to harmful bacteria, putting them at a greater risk to infections from Salmonella, which is typically passed through the feces of humans or animals, and Camplyobacter, which is often carried by birds.
Dr. Charles P. Gerba
Dr. Charles P. Gerba
University of Arizona
Additionally, Gerba cites another study, from 2010, which proves shopping cart handles to be "hidden reservoirs" for pathogenic Staphylococcus aureus, familiarly known as Staph (pronounced "staff") organisms. Staphylococcus aureus is the most common of over 30 Staphylococcus bacterial breeds to which humans are susceptible. On the human body, the most common places to find Staphylococcus aureus are in the nose and on the skin, thus providing a high probability to contaminate objects and infect others with a dangerously contagious bacteria.
Though anyone may contract an infection, those at the greatest risk for a Staph infection include infants and young children, breastfeeding mothers, persons with chronic disease(s) including immune deficiencies, intravenous apparatus users and people with unhealed surgical incisions.
Under Gerba's own study, his team collected samples by swabbing the seat and handle from a total of 85 shopping carts. The samples were then packed in ice and delivered overnight to the University of Arizona for processing. The total estimated surface area sampled among the 85 shopping carts was 668 square centimeters. The outcome of the study proved that 72-percent of the 85 shopping carts sampled contained a high amount of coliform bacteria.
Coliform organisms are commonly present in our environment, particularly in the feces of all warm-blooded animals, including humans. Coliform organisms are not likely to cause illness on their own, but an extreme presence is an indication of well-breeding conditions for disease-causing pathogens.
In Dr. Gerba's research, of the 72-percent of shopping carts which tested positive for high amounts of coliform organisms, 36 of them were tested for more harmful bacteria. Among those, 50-percent were found to contain Eschericha colo, commonly known as E. coli bacteria.
E. coli bacteria lives inside the intestines and helps break down food. Harmful strains of this bacteria may travel into the blood and cause very serious infections. Symptoms of an E. coli infection, or E. coli poisoning, include severe stomach cramping or pain, vomiting and diarrhea that may sometimes contain blood.
In his report, Dr. Gerba pushes hard for an awareness to shopping cart sanitation. He references a study from 2001 that proves most anti-bacterial wipes would need to be applied to the contaminated surface area for a minimum of ten-minutes in order to be effective against such organisms. Dr. Gerba also recommends the use of plastic barriers, which are designed to fit over the handle and have an anti-bacterial adhesive on the contacting side, which can then be properly disposed when each shopper returns their cart.
When asked if testing 85 units (shopping carts) were enough to support nation-wide concern over Dr. Gerba's statistics he simply reiterated the information from his report, "Samples were collected from five different cities across the U.S."
Dr. Gerba continued with his own indirect answer, "One never knows the answer to that question unless you sample every cart in every city."
More about Ecoli, E coli, Escherichia coli, Contamination, Microbiology
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