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The Dirtiest Thing in the Grocery Store

Hint: It's not something you can eat or drink.
Man grocery shopping

In this time of a global pandemic, grocery shopping has become one of the most precarious activities a person can do. It's something we have to do if we're going to eat, but is now packed with surprising risks and opportunities to pick up something that's on nobody's shopping list: COVID-19. But by being careful and avoiding the riskiest aspects of grocery shopping, you can keep your chances of picking up unwanted bacteria extremely low. (For more on grocery store news, check out these 8 Grocery Items That May Soon Be in Short Supply).

One of the most bacteria-packed spots in the store, which medical experts suggest any shopper should go to great lengths to avoid, is waiting for you the moment you enter the store: The shopping baskets.

The handles of baskets are perhaps the most-touched thing in the store. And unlike other oft-touched things—such as credit card pads or self-checkout touchpads—shoppers don't just briefly touch the handle. They grip it and don't let it go for their entire shopping trip, potentially passing any bacteria on their hands to the plastic handle. Also, unlike those other high-touch areas, basket handles are much less likely to get the regular cleanings they should—and even when they are disinfected, it's hard to do a thorough job.

"It's almost impossible to wipe off all the surfaces that people might touch," says Leann Poston M.D., M.B.A., M.Ed, a consultant for Invigor Medical. "Baskets are stacked and then used. Even if the baskets were thoroughly cleaned, they might be contaminated when removed. Unlike shopping carts, it is tough to keep your shopping basket away from personal items and clothing."

Gail Trauco R.N., BSN-OCN, patient advocate and CEO/founder of Medical Bill 911, agrees that cleaning baskets presents particular challenges.

"The structure of the baskets—weave and ridged surfaces—create places for COVID to hide during cleaning. Baskets are disinfected, however, it is impossible for a retailer to clean each crack and crevice," she says, pointing out that how baskets are handled also presents sanitary risks. "You carry the basket on your arm, in your hand, or may change hands. Baskets are more likely to rub against clothing, counters, or product surfaces, spreading contamination."

She urges that shoppers instead opt for a shopping cart (if available). Its handle is much easier to clean with antibacterial wipes.

"Localize surface exposure to the shopping cart's handle," says Trauco. "Items can be placed in carts without touching additional surfaces. Minimizing exposure to surfaces touched while shopping lowers your risk of exposure to COVID."

Dr. Rashmi Byakodi, a wellness expert at Best for Nutrition, echoes these points, saying "It's better to use a cart as it can hardly touch your clothes, and you can just sanitize the handle before use."

Of course, using grocery carts also requires following certain precautions.

"Avoid putting personal items in the cart when shopping," says Poston. "Use a backpack if you need to carry personal items when running errands. When loading and unloading the cart, avoid leaning on the cart so your clothing and personal items do not touch unwiped surfaces."

For more, check out these 7 Genius Grocery Shopping Tips to Make You a Safer Shopper.

Alex Palmer
Alex is a writer and expert excavator of fascinating facts. Read more
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