November 11, 2008
Taking the Gross Out of the Grocery Cart
by Anne Marie Chaker
When Brad Blaine grabbed a cart on a recent run to the Chevy Chase Supermarket in suburban Maryland, he noticed it was a little moist.

He was puzzled, he says, until he figured out that the cart had been pushed through a sort of car wash for shopping carts -- a hut set up at the store that mists a disinfecting peroxide solution onto carts as they're pushed through.

"As soon as I realized what it was, I felt, " Here's a store that't going through the trouble to make sure customers feel safe.'" says the 48-year old dad.

The cart wash represents the latest effort from both the entrepreneurs and grocers to take the gross out of grocery carts. Though hardly public enemy number one, shopping carts are gaining a reputation as one of the dirtiest public places, with some found to harbor such microbial villians as the diarrhea-causing Campylobacter and the potentially deadly Salmonella.

Cleansing-wipe dispensers have been appearing nest to shopping carts at grocery stores for some years now, but a host of other products have emerged to appease germaphobes who shop. These new offerings include protective covers that minimize infants' contact with the seat, full cart liners and portable, snap-on handles carries by consumers.

No one disputes that carts harbor microbes. In a study released last year, University of Arizona researchers who sampled bacterial content on 60 grocery carts in the Los Angeles area found that cart surfaces had expotentially more bacteria than what they had measured in about 100 public restrooms, from toilet seats to fluch handles.

Washing is still wise. Elaine Larson, a professor at Columbia University School of Nursing, adds: "Common sense says that shopping carts should be cleaned every now and then."

So far, it has been hard to gauge the appetite for this arsenal of new cleaning products. With sales of $25 million a year, wipes provided in grocery stores are still a small part of the entire $1.8 billion wipes industry, but are growing about twice as fast as other types of wipes, estimates Mike Richardson, industry analyst for the Freedonia Group in Cleveland, which has studied this market.

Still, relatively few grocery shoppers are reaching for the wipes they see in stores. Purell wipes, made by GoJo Industries, Inc. are used by only 5% of customers. The wipes have their drawbacks: Those intended to kill germs on cart surfaces may carry potentially scary labels. SaniCart wipes come with a number of precautionary messages: "Hazards to humans and domestic animals," for instance. The warning is due to the concetration of ammonium chlorides, which can cause eye irritation.

Matt Schiering, vice president of marketing for the company, says that such warnings are required by the EPA in order to market products that disinfect surfaces, rather than just clean them. "If you want something with lower toxicity, you might have to take into account that it doesn't kill, say, the Hong Kong Flu virus," Mr. Schiering says. "If you want to clean your hands with a baby wipe you're free to do so, but you're probably not killing germs.

Other products are targeted directly to consumers. A number of stores sell protective liners for mothers who put babies in carts. Made by Pelham, the Clean Shopper is a coverlet that allows the baby to sit in the cart without coming into direct contact with it. The product sells for about $30.

Marge Dandy and her husband came up with the idea for another variation on the theme, the Healthy Handle, after Ms. Dandy, who had just completed cancer treatment, cut her hand on a plastic shopping cart handle. The product is made for plastic and slips over the cart handle. The handles sell for about $10 each and are available at
Copyright 2008 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
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Anne Marie Chaker can be contacted at

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