You Won’t Believe All of These Germy Items at the Grocery Store

Grocery shopping is a part of life. But the bacteria that comes with it doesn’t have to be. You’d be amazed at the filthiness of certain areas and items at the grocery store. Take a look at this list before heading to the supermarket and bringing all those germs back with you. Hint: The shopping cart isn’t the dirtiest thing you touch (on page 10). 

1. Your child’s seat in the cart

Father pushing daughter in shopping cart
Father and daughter grocery shopping | iStock.com/XiXinXing

Children’s immune systems aren’t as built up as adults, so they tend to leave behind plenty of germs. Their shopping cart seats are loaded with bacteria, drool, and mucus. If you put your little one in the cart, be sure to sanitize it first. Kids tend to pick up germs and illnesses just as often as they leave them behind.

Next: Perhaps the most tempting part of the whole store

2. Free samples

Costco samples
This employee almost got it right. | Tim Boyle/Getty Images

We hate to break it to you, but the sample table is unsanitary unless it follows very strict guidelines. The complimentary goodies have likely been touched by multiple hands as well as cutting and serving surfaces, reports Oprah.com. Even beloved Costco doesn’t get it right all the time. If you must try the treats, make sure an employee is wearing gloves and handing each person a serving, rather than letting people take what they want.

Next: This section of the store is one to be careful about. 

3. The deli slicer

Raw meat at Butcher shop.
The meat counter | Sharif_Whitebear/Getty Images
  • 3% of deli meats tested positive for listeria, according to joint research from the USDA, FDA, and CDC.

The deli slicer touches many cold cuts and other meat varieties. If the blade isn’t sanitized regularly, it can transfer listeria and other bacteria to all it touches. Additionally, meat and seafood can easily cross contaminate if there are any rips in the plastic bags. To avoid getting sick, put your meats in sturdy, separated plastic bags, according to Foodsafety.gov.

Next: You’ll be surprised by the bacteria on these grocery items. 

4. Canned goods, including soft drinks

Female with daughter choosing canned goods
Canned foods | iStock.com/JackF
  • Some food and drink cans harbor staphylococcus bacteria.

You’d be surprised to know just how many bacteria are actually on the surface of your canned foods. According to a study done by CBS news, soda cans had millions of bacteria on them that could potentially make consumers sick. Some of the cans were even harboring staphylococcus, or extremely harmful bacteria that could be deadly. Needless to say, if you’re going to be putting the can to your mouth, you may want to sanitize it first.

Next: This touch screen is one you won’t want to touch. 

5. Self-checkout screens

Self checkout machine
Self checkout | Baloncici/Getty Images
  • Self-checkout screens contain more bacteria than a toilet seat.

The self-checkout screen is another part of the grocery store that sees many germy hands. These screens are hardly ever cleaned, yet see thousands of hands each year. News.com.au reported that the average self-checkout screen has about 4,500 colony forming units per inch. For reference, the average toilet seat has about 1,200.

Next: Don’t belly up to this bar.

6. The salad bar

salad bar
| Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

It’s not the actual food at the salad bar that’s germy; it’s the salad tongs used to pick up the croutons, cheese, and other mixings. The FDA found that most supermarkets ensure the salad bar is kept at the right temperature. But a Clemson University study found salad tongs to harbor significant levels of E. coli. Perhaps you should assemble your salad at home.

Next: A scary section — because you can’t see it.

7. Storage areas

Grocery store freezer
Grocery store freezer | iStock.com/fredgoldstein

In addition to the freezer storage areas, grocery stores have large spaces for storing food in the back, where the general public doesn’t go. And this can be where germs and bacteria fester, as some supermarkets stock items poorly. One investigation into New York grocery stores found storage areas infested with mice, feces, and roaches.

Next: A lesser evil than the self-checkout lane

8. The conveyor belt

Woman on cashier counter
Supermarket | GeorgeRudy/Getty Images

What makes conveyor belts last for 30-plus years is the same thing that makes them a breeding ground for bacteria: They’re made from PVC, a porous material that’s very difficult to clean. In addition to the MSU study, the International Association of Food Protection found belts to harbor staph, mold, yeast, and coliform.

The solution isn’t to replace the belts regularly. New ones will be totally contaminated within six months. Supermarkets would be smart to use antimicrobial belt covers that can be fully sanitized.

Next: This is one item you probably never thought to sanitize. 

9. Your reusable grocery bags

Amazon Fresh insulated grocery delivery bags totes on front home house porch closeup with man carrying
Grocery bags | krblokhin/iStock/Getty Images
  • Only 3% of shoppers actually sanitize their grocery bags.

Helping the environment is great, but risking illness is not. USA Today reported that only about 3% of grocery shoppers actually wash their reusable bags. But these bags can carry bacteria like coliform and E. coli and should be washed regularly. And if you store them in a warm, dark place, such as the trunk of your car, they’re way more likely to harbor bacteria that can make you sick.

Next: This is the dirtiest thing you touch at the grocery store. 

10. The produce you bring home

woman holding a bag of fruit
Grocery shopping | Choreograph/iStock/Getty Images
  • Produce contains millions of colonies of bacteria per inch.

Picture this: You’re in the produce aisle and spot a perfect tomato. You pick it up, inspect it, and put it back. You repeat with a few more tomatoes until you find the perfect one. Now picture every other customer doing the exact same thing. Produce is filled with bacteria. In fact, budget grocery store produce has about 746 times’ more bacteria than your steering wheel, which translates to more than 5 million colony-forming units per inch. Always make sure to wash your produce thoroughly when you get home.

Next: This machine is nearly unavoidable but so dirty. 

11. The credit-card screen and keypad

Mother Paying For Family Shopping At Checkout
Woman checking out | iStock.com/bowdenimages

In today’s world, cash is almost obsolete. Everything is put on either a debit or credit card, which means you’re bound to use those dirty credit card machines to pay for your groceries. Since these are almost never sanitized, there’s a good chance that they harbor the same kind of bacteria found on the self-checkout screen. Wipe them down with a sanitizing wipe before using them, or at least sanitize your hands afterward.

Next: The reason for those wipes by the entrance

12. Your shopping cart handle

lady shopping with a full filled cart in a supermarket
Shopping cart | Freer Law/iStock/Getty Images
  • Your shopping cart has 270 times’ more bacteria than a toilet handle.

This is one of the grimiest parts of your shopping experience. Think about it — we all share shopping carts, and they never get sanitized. According to Insider, grocery store shopping carts have a whopping 270 times’ more bacteria than a toilet handle. A study found 8,112 bacteria colonies per inch on a shopping cart compared to only 30 colonies per inch on a toilet handle.

Next: Food safety is also extremely important. 

13. Any food that’s been left out for too long

whole foods produce
Produce aisle | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

It may seem like a no brainer, but it can be hard to tell which perishable foods have been left out for too long at grocery stores. When shopping for meat, always take packaged meat that is cool to the touch; never warm. Also, if you notice milk looks like its sweating in the refrigerator, that could be a sign it isn’t being cooled properly. For the most part, this isn’t a major concern. But if the store recently had a power outage, it’s important to be careful about what you purchase.

Next: This is the one area of the store that’s surprisingly clean. 

14. The restroom is shockingly clean

closeup faucet and lavatory white marble restroom interior concept
Bathroom sink | whyframestudio/iStock/Getty Images
  • Bacteria dislike the restroom environment.

This might come as a surprise, but restrooms are actually not too scary. That’s because bathroom surfaces tend to be cool, bright, and dry, which is the opposite environment that bacteria like. (They prefer, warm, dark, and moist.) As a result, they die pretty quickly. This explains why a toilet seat has so much less bacteria than the self-checkout screen. “The organisms which can grow [in the bathroom] have a very low probability of being able to cause an infection,” Jack Gilbert, a microbiologist at Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois, told LiveScience.

Next: Here are a few tips to prevent getting sick from the food store. 

15. Always carry wipes with you while you shop

Cleaning fingers with wet wipes
Wet wipes | AdamRadosavljevic/Getty Images

The best way to avoid germs is to eliminate them. Next time you go grocery shopping, bring sanitizing wipes to wipe down the cart before you start shopping. And if you have a child, definitely wipe down his or her seat, too. If you don’t want to wipe down the checkout or credit card machines, make sure to at least use hand sanitizer as soon as you’re done using them.

Next: This should be the first thing you do when you get home. 

16. Make sure you wash your hands as soon as you get home

Person washing their hands
Woman washing her hands | iStock/Getty Images

Washing your hands is imperative. Although hand sanitizer works well, nothing works quite like traditional soap and water. The CDC says that alcohol-based hand sanitizers should be used in addition to hand washing but aren’t necessarily a substitute. To keep yourself as germ-free as possible, always wash your hands for at least 20 seconds when you get home. This way, you prevent spreading germs to your family.

Next: This should be the first thing you unpack. 

17. Put cold food in the refrigerator or freezer right away

Frozen food in the refrigerator
Freezer items | iStock.com/BravissimoS

One of the most dangerous things you can do is leave perishable food on the counter for too long. According to foodsafety.gov, food left out above 40 degrees Fahrenheit should be discarded after about two hours. Also, you can’t rely on appearance or odor to know whether or not food is safe. Unload your perishable groceries right away to prevent the risk of food-borne illness.

Next: Always wipe these down after shopping. 

18. Wipe down your reusable bags

groceries in a green reusable shopping bag
Clean your bags | diane39/Getty Images

While reusable bags are a great way to be environmentally friendly, they can also be full of bacteria if you constantly bring them to and from the grocery store. Make sure to wipe down the bags when you finish unloading the groceries. Also avoid putting the reusable bags on your kitchen counter. That would be an easy way to accidentally spread the bacteria from the grocery bag to the cooking area.

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