Have you ever wondered what might be lurking on your supermarket trolley? We think of food shops as nice clean places, but in fact a study in the US(1) showed that there may be unwelcome micro-organisms on the handle of the trolley.
Indeed, studies suggested that there may be an association between children sitting in supermarket trolleys when raw meat is being purchased and being ill with Campylobacter or Salmonella. (2) (3)
How could that happen, you may ask? Well, next time you go to a supermarket, have a look what fellow shoppers are doing whilst they are shopping – and maybe even look at your habits. If you are picking up bacteria such as Campylobacter and E. coli on your hands when shopping, do you really want to transfer those germs to your mouth or your child’s mouth?
That is effectively what you are doing if you eat whilst shopping, or feed your children when they are sitting in the front of the trolley (and their hands will be on the handle as well). Given that bugs like Campylobacter are infectious in very small numbers, then simply transferring them from the handles of the trolley to your mouth (maybe via a packet of crisps) would be enough to cause illness. Add to the mix respiratory diseases such as flu and colds, and norovirus, and there are quite a few reasons to take care with hygiene.
Think about some of the routes of transmission:
- Hands to trolley
- Trolley to hands
- Hands to face, mouth, eyes
- Hands to ready-to-eat food to mouth
- Hands to ready-to-eat food in trolley to mouth
- Hands to child
- Hands to other surfaces (car, home, work surfaces, ready to eat food)
- So what’s it like in reality?
- You touch a trolley handle with clean hands, you pick up flu virus, rub your eyes and infect yourself
- You pick up bacteria such as Campylobacter from the packaging of raw foods, or E. coli from raw veg (eg putting potatoes in a bag) and then you touch grapes with dirty hands, transfer the pathogens and then feed them to your child.
- You pick up bacteria from raw meat or vegetables on your hands and transfer them to the trolley handle which is touched by others or your child sitting in the trolley (who then feeds herself crisps)
- You put raw meat and vegetables in a bag for life, transferring bacteria to the bag, which may be used subsequently for ready-to-eat food
- Your raw meat and vegetables may contaminate ready-to-eat foods in the bag or trolley
So what are top tips for Supermarket hygiene?
- It would be great if, as in some parts of the USA supermarkets provide wipes for trolleys
- If they don’t then it may be worth using your own anti-bacterial wipes
- Try not to eat when shopping, and don’t feed your children if at all possible, as you could be exposing them to infection
- Think that your hands could be carriers of disease, and before you rub your eyes, or eat, make sure you wash them!
- Keep a separate “raw meat and veg” bag or use a disposable bag, and don’t put ready-to-eat foods next to these dirtier foods
- When you get home, wash your hands and those of your child.
Supermarkets, like any public place, will be contaminated with bacteria and viruses from other people. However, there are also raw foods available in the supermarket which may cause additional contamination. Make sure that these organisms don’t get in your body by following some fairly simple rules.
1. Gerba and Maxwell Food Protection Trends, Vol. 32, No. 12, Pages –
Copyright© 2012, International Association for Food Protection6200 Aurora Ave., Suite 200W, Des Moines, IA50322-2864
2. Fulterton, K. E., L. A. Ingram, T. F. Jones, B. J. Anderson, P. V. McCarthy, S. Hurd, B. Shiferaw, D. Vugia, N. Haubert, S. Wedel, and F. J. Angulo. 2007. Sporadic Campylo-bacter infection in infants: a pop¬ulation-based surveillance case-control study. Pediatr. Infect. Dis. J. 26:19–24.
3. Jones, T. F., L. A. Ingram, K. E. Fulterton, R. Marcus, B. J. Anderson, P. V. McCarth, D. Vugia, B. Shiferaw, N. Haubert, S. Wedel, and F. J. Angulo. 2006. A case control study of the epidemiology of sporadic Salmo¬nella infection in infants. Pediatrics 118:2380–2387.