Test reveals what's lurking on shopping cart handles

We first took a thorough swab of the shopping cart handle. Then, we wiped it down with a sanitizing wipe. After that, we let it dry then swabbed it again. We took the samples to SIUC's Department of Microbiology to get them tested. (Source: KFVS)
We first took a thorough swab of the shopping cart handle. Then, we wiped it down with a sanitizing wipe. After that, we let it dry then swabbed it again. We took the samples to SIUC's Department of Microbiology to get them tested. (Source: KFVS)

CAPE GIRARDEAU, MO (KFVS) - How many of you dread the trip to the grocery store?

The cost, the crowds...what about the germs?

Without a doubt, the shopping carts at your favorite store have been touched by countless hands throughout the day.

"There's no telling, no telling what's on those carts," said Megan Williams. "With as many people coming in, so many germs."

Do you even want to know what's on those handles?

"I'm kind of curious," said Megan Williams. "But no, I really don't."

Curious minds led to a little science experiment.

Heartland News' Crystal Britt and Don Frazier went to five popular stores and tested three random carts at each location.

We first took a thorough swab of the shopping cart handle. Then, we wiped it down with a sanitizing wipe. After that, we let it dry then swabbed it again.

We repeated those steps at every location.

We then brought the samples to SIU Carbondale's Department of Microbiology.

While we waited, it was interesting to watch people's habits.

A lot of stores provide those wipes. We watched at one store and noticed about half of the people that came through the store took advantage of them.

"I'm aware of the fact that they're covered in germs, but germs are everywhere," said Sara Nowicki Gamadia,

Sara is a mom, but doesn't worry too much about those handles.

"I work in healthcare, so germs are kind of part of my life," said Sara Nowicki Gamadia. "I just expect them to be around."

Others do everything they can to avoid germs.

Megan Williams almost panics if a store runs out of sanitizing wipes.

"I've turned into being a germaphobe with little ones anyway," she said.

Back at the lab at SIU, it was quite the project for the microbiology students.

"We did four different types of growth media per cart," said Dr. Kelly Bender.

Dr. Bender is the associate professor and chair of the Department of Microbiology at SIUC.

She walked us through the findings.

"We have some fungi growing here, possibly an organism you'd see in your shower," said Dr. Bender. "Which is pretty harmless."

Some of the carts didn't look that bad. But, others were pretty nasty overall.

"This plate should be red, but it's turning yellow which is usually a sign of staph," said Dr. Bender as she describes some of the growth plates.

Some of them showed fecal bacteria, and some could possibly be strep.

For comparison, Dr. Bender's students also tested a phone, a water fountain, and the bottom of a shoe. All had a lot of bacteria, but the shoe, as you'd expect, was pretty disgusting.

"I think it shows all surfaces have some sort of microorganisms on them," said Bender.

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So what about those disinfectant wipes? Do they really work?

In some cases, yes...they eliminated most of those germs. But, not every time.

"Keep in mind, microorganisms are everywhere," said Bender. The good thing is less than one percent are harmful to you. Most of them are helpful."

Knowing that Dr. Bender doesn't bother grabbing a wipe at the store.

However, if it makes you feel better...or if you have a child, for example, with a weakened immune system definitely go for it.

Our test proved, it did help...just not entirely.

Our test also couldn't detect the cold and flu virus, so there's a chance we would have found that too.

The advice: don't worry about it. Just wash your hands well with soap and water as soon as you get the chance.

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