Riding in carts with meat

Several years ago, a young girl in Ottawa contracted E. coli O157 after licking the moisture off a package of hamburger on a particularly hot day. The risks of having young children near potentially contaminated food in a shopping cart has been well recognized. And now confirmed.

Researchers at CDC and elsewhere report in the current Journal of Food Protection that kids can be exposed to raw meat and poultry products while riding in shopping carts. Parents, pay attention.

Prevalence of, and factors associated with, this risk factor for Salmonella and campylobacter infection in children younger than 3 years***
Journal of Food Protection®, Volume 73, Number 6, pp. 1097-1100(4)
Patrick, Mary E.; Mahon, Barbara E.; Zansky, Shelley M.; Hurd, Sharon3; Scallan, Elaine
Riding in a shopping cart next to raw meat or poultry is a risk factor for Salmonella and Campylobacter infections in infants. To describe the frequency of, and factors associated with, this behavior, we surveyed parents of children aged younger than 3 years in Foodborne Disease Active Surveillance Network sites. We defined exposure as answering yes to one of a series of questions asking if packages of raw meat or poultry were near a child in a shopping cart, or if a child was in the cart basket at the same time as was raw meat or poultry. Among 1,273 respondents, 767 (60%) reported that their children visited a grocery store in the past week and rode in shopping carts. Among these children, 103 (13%) were exposed to raw products. Children who rode in the baskets were more likely to be exposed than were those who rode only in the seats (odds ratio [OR], 17.8; 95% confidence interval [CI], 11.0 to 28.9). In a multivariate model, riding in the basket (OR, 15.5; 95% CI, 9.2 to 26.1), income less than $55,000 (OR, 1.8; 95% CI, 1.0 to 3.1), and Hispanic ethnicity (OR, 2.3; 95% CI, 1.2 to 4.5) were associated with exposure. Our study shows that children can be exposed to raw meat and poultry products while riding in shopping carts. Parents should separate children from raw products and place children in the seats rather than in the baskets of the cart. Retailer use of leak-proof packaging, customer placement of product in a plastic bag and on the rack underneath the cart, use of hand sanitizers and wipes, and consumer education may also be helpful.

Shopping cart sanitation (and don’t let kids lick packages of raw meat)

Amy, Sorenne and I go grocery shopping fairly frequently. The 11-month-old is curious about everything, a trait I called the day she was born; she’s alert, curious and increasingly mischievous.

When she was strong and co-ordinated enough to sit on her with a seatbelt on the seat behind the handle, a battle of wills soon emerged as Sorenne would have her hands on the handle, then in her mouth, or worse, would try to suckle the handle.

At this point I become much more rigorous and consistent about using those sanitary wipes  to wipe down the shopping cart seat and handle.

In 2004, clear displays promoting shopping cart sanitation were novel. And this one from Phoenix (upper right) is far more dramatic and attention-grabbing than a small container nailed to a bleak wall beside the shopping carts, which is still the norm today.

But things are changing.

Last year, USA Today reported that supermarkets and other retailers that provide shopping carts are increasingly looking to limit germ exposure for customers and their families.???, making sanitary wipes more readily available and in some cases, installing a whole cart cleaning system like this one in Wisconsin (photo by Peter J. Zuzga, for USA TODAY)

The trend continues to grow. Newspuller Gonzalo was in the Manhattan (Kansas) Target store recently and snapped these shots (below).

Parents and caregivers also have to think like the bad bug: like, don’t give the kids packages of raw meat to play with or leave within reach. Olga Henao, an epidemiologist for the U.S. Centers for disease control told USA Today last year that doing so triples the chance they may contract salmonella and quadruples it for campylobacter.

“Infants can become ill when they transfer bacteria from the packaging into their mouths.”


Are reusable bags really a food safety concern?

The Canadian Plastic Industry Association (likely feeling reduced sales due to the popularity of reusable cloth bags) says that reusable bags are a public health risk. In a press release yesterday the plastic dudes touted the results of a bag swabbing study conducted earlier this year. Cited as the first study of its kind in North America, the plastics industry swabbed a whopping 25 bags, with 4 controls looking for anything they could find.

Swab-testing of a scientifically-meaningful sample of both single-use and reusable grocery bags found unacceptably high levels of bacterial, yeast, mold and coliform counts in the reusable bags. The swab testing was conducted March 7-April 10th by two independent laboratories. The study found that 64% of the reusable bags were contaminated with some level of bacteria and close to 30% had elevated bacterial counts higher than the 500 CFU/mL considered safe for drinking water.

Um, yeah except that coliform isn’t an indicator of really anything in a shopping bag. It’s a great indicator of water quality, but not great for food (coliforms are all over the place, including on produce). And mean relatively nothing.

The lack of real data is probably why it was reported in CFU/ml (a water measurement — pretty hard to tell what a ml of a shopping bag represents). The most telling data was that no generic E. coli or Salmonella was found.

Not the best methodology design. Or reporting of results.

Not to be phased by the lack of data, Dr. Richard Summerbell, Director of Research at Toronto-based Sporometrics and former Chief of Medical Mycology for the Ontario Ministry of Health (1991-2000), who evaluated the study results said, "The main risk is food poisoning. But other significant risks include skin infections such as bacterial boils, allergic reactions, triggering of asthma attacks, and ear infections."

Wow. Maybe if you’re talking about yeast and molds? But when it comes to pathogenic microorganisms the data just isn’t there.

We use reusable bags all the time for our shopping and take a few precautions to maybe reduce any potential risks: we keep them dry; wash them every couple of weeks and use one-use bags for raw meat.

Trendspotting: Shopping cart sanitation

Some of you may remember the 2004 International Association for Food Protection meting in Phoenix. At a local supermarket I found this sanitizing system for shopping carts displayed prominently. That’s when I started to think, maybe food safety can be marketed.

A few months later and I was in the Gold Coast, Australia, for a food safety meeting. I told one journalist about this new trend I’d observed –always gotta be trendspotting – of more prominent use of sanitizers in grocery stores.

That turned into,

“Doug Powell, a food safety expert from Canada, says a decision to put hand wipes in supermarkets and provide sanitising towels for shopping trollies has been successful in reducing the number of food poisoning cases in the US and Canada.”

And it ran all over Australia.

So I wrote a letter which was published in the Sydney Morning Herald and read in part,

“The use of hand wipes in supermarkets and sanitizing towels for shopping carts has been experimental at best in the U.S., and has not and cannot be correlated with any reduction in foodborne illness (Shoppers urged to clean hands to wipe out food-borne diseases, October 11/04, Sydney Morning Herald).

“However, as the Food Safety Information Council correctly noted, and as I stressed during the interview, any measure — whether on the farm, in processing, at food service, in the home, and yes, at retail — that can enhance food safety awareness should be explored and encouraged.”

Now it appears some such work has been done.

USA Today reports today that supermarkets and other retailers that provide shopping carts are increasingly looking to limit germ exposure for customers and their families.

“A ShopRite supermarket in Passaic, N.J., installed a push-through cleaning machine on Tuesday that sprays each shopping cart between uses with a misty peroxide solution to kill bacteria, according to Jim Kratowicz, president of PureCart Systems, the manufacturer of the machine. …

“Studies conducted in 2006 and 2007 by FoodNet found riding in a shopping cart beside meat and poultry is risky for infants under six months.

“Doing so triples the chance they may contract salmonella and quadruples it for campylobacter, a diarrhea illness, according to Olga Henao, an epidemiologist for the CDC.

“Infants can become ill when they transfer bacteria from the packaging into their mouths, Henao said. Also, if raw juices leak out onto the cart, it can create a bacteria risk for the next infant in the cart, she said.”

Trendspotting is just so hip. Here’s Demetri Martin with his own trendspotting.