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Alarming test results show shopping cart handles can have incredibly high levels of bacteria

Carts from 10 different South Florida locations tested

Bacteria levels on shopping cart handles alarmingly high
Bacteria levels on shopping cart handles alarmingly high

PEMBROKE PARK, Fla. – The results even surprised the scientists.

Ever think about how many different and dirty hands can touch a shopping cart handle in just one day? We did.

After watching birds land and defecate on shopping carts in one parking lot, Local 10 News decided to see just how much bacteria is on the shopping cart handles you grab, touch and push.

From Davie to Coral Gables and Liberty City to Westchester, Local 10 News investigative reporter Jeff Weinsier went to 10 different locations around South Florida.

Using a special kit provided by Kappa Labs, Weinsier swabbed the handles.

“I think that the sheer numbers were a surprise,” said Dr. Peter Kmieck of Kappa Labs.

The results showed seven of the 10 samples had high levels of bacteria.

But, three of those seven were off the charts.

The bacteria counts were in the billions.

Sample 1 had a total plate count of 16.3 billion.

Sample 2 had a total plate count of 169.6 billion.

Sample 3 had a total plate count of 277.6 billion.

Five others were in the thousands.

Test results for the bacteria samples collected by Weinsier can be found below.

“That’s scary,” Weinsier said to Kmieck.

“Yes, it is,” he replied.

The total plate count is the enumeration of aerobic, mesophilic organisms that grow in aerobic conditions under moderate temperatures of 20-45 degrees Celsius. This includes all aerobic bacteria, yeast, molds and fungi that grows in the specific agar.

“We generally do not see this high of a count unless we are dealing with things like raw sewage,” said Kmieck.

“That’s a lot of bacteria,” added Dr. Robert Smith.

Smith, an associate professor of biological Science at Nova Southeastern University, also looked at the results.

“Some forms of strep throat will be caused by bacteria,” said Smith. “They picked up a bacteria called pseudomonas. It can also cause infections.”

Weinsier watched as several mothers put their children in the shopping cart seat next to the handle.

Most didn’t sanitize them.

“That’s why we have a lot of sick children,” he added.

“I was just running in and out,” said one parent.

Weinsier stood in front of a Publix in Hollywood for about 30 minutes and watched.

Twenty-two people walked right by the free sanitizing wipes provided at the door. Only six grabbed one.

No one who grabbed a basket used a wipe.

“You would expect there to be a significant amount of transfer from the handle to the hand,” said Kmieck.

From Davie to Coral Gables, from Liberty City to Westchester, Local 10 Investigator Jeff Weinsier went to 10 different locations around South Florida. (WPLG)

As surprising as those numbers high numbers may be, the most eye opening result may be sample 11.

For sample 11, Weinsier took a cart and cleaned the handle with the sanitizing wipe provided at the door.

“This just wiped all the bacteria present,” said Kmieck.

“I think what stood out was how effective wiping down your cart handle was,” added Smith.

The three samples with the highest result do have something in common. Those samples were taken on a Sunday evening after a busy shopping weekend.

The others were taken on a Monday morning.

“There is really no one store that is going to be worse than another,” said Smith.

While it’s known not all bacteria is harmful, one simple quick wipe down can save you days of anguish.

“I will definitely wipe the handle of the cart,” said Kmieck.

Kmieck admits he too would walk by the wipes and not use them.

Not after these results.

“Yes, I’m convinced,” he said with a smile.

About the Author:

Jeff Weinsier joined Local 10 News in September 1994. He is currently an investigative reporter for Local 10. He is also responsible for the very popular Dirty Dining segments.