Updated 17 December 2014

Supermarket trolleys dirtier than toilets

According to a local health and hygiene firm, shopping trolleys rival the average public toilet as a health risk.

Most South Africans view it as nothing more than a necessary chore, but a visit to the local supermarket exposes you to more risk than you might appreciate.

According to local health and hygiene firm Bidvest Steiner, a 2011 study in the United States found that supermarket shopping trolleys rival the average public toilet as a health risk.

Risk of infection

The study examined 85 trolleys and found that 72% of them tested positive for faecal bacteria and half carried traces of the dreaded E. coli, the source of the most severe (and sometimes fatal) “food poisoning”.

“Any surface that is routinely touched by multiple people poses a risk of infection,” says Rika van Rooyen of Bidvest Steiner. “Hands are one of the biggest factors in the spread of viruses, so it stands to reason that supermarket trolleys should act as transfer mechanisms for all sorts of unpleasant microbes.”

Ms Van Rooyen also referred to the Dettol HABIT Study, one of the largest studies of hygiene behaviour ever conducted globally. It found that just under half of all people (46%) did not follow good personal hygiene habits by washing their hands with soap five or more times a day.

South Africans, the study showed, pretty much conform to this average although we show a lower propensity to use anti-bacterial soap than the global average.

In short, the health safety of the trolley, and particularly its handle, is directly dependent on the hand hygiene of those unknowns who have used it since its last wash. Ms Van Rooyen suggested that consumers request that their local retailers provide adequate trolley wipes, hand sanitiser stations and other services aimed at safeguarding the health of their patrons.

Read: Fake foods flood SA supermarkets

Prime spreaders of infection

There is an additional concern that toddlers sitting in trolleys are at particular risk of coming into contact with dangerous bacteria. An added consideration is that toddlers themselves, as any parent felled by yet another infection from kindergarten can attest, are prime spreaders of infection.

“The problem is that while public toilets are generally cleaned pretty frequently using reliable chemicals, very few shops have a routine trolley sanitising programme,” says Ms Van Rooyen. “Consumers should take steps to ensure that the surfaces they touch – the trolley handle in particular – are safe. Use sanitising wipes or hand sanitiser, if provided, or carry your own." Ms Van Rooyen believes that everyone should take responsibility for their own trolley's hygiene safety by ensuring that their own hands are regularly washed and sanitised.

“Make sure that the stores you patronise know that you expect, and appreciate, the provision of sanitising wipes. Trolleys should also be visibly clean,” she says. “Customers are the heart of any business and retailers in particular are sensitive to customer preferences, so make yours felt.”

Read more:
The effect of Christmas music on our shopping behaviour
How dirty are your hands?

(Picture: Shopping Trolley from Shutterstock)

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