Yuck. After reading this, you may never look at your grocery cart in the same way again. A University of Arizona researcher took a swab of 85 carts in four different states and ran tests on what he found: 72 per cent of them came back positive for fecal matter. (Half of them were also laced with E. coli.) The bacteria was discovered mostly on the handles of the carts, suggesting that a lot of people could do a better job washing their hands after they use the toilet while we’re all scrubbing away in disgust.
Which is what the company that funded the experiment is hoping. Clorox, which makes disinfecting wipes, has a clear self-interest in making us panic about the poop that might be lurking all around us. The same researcher in the grocery-cart study, Charles Gerba, has demonstrated that the average workplace desk has 400 times more bacteria than a toilet – a finding also funded by Clorox. (Teachers, to no surprise, had the most germ-ridden desks; lawyers, perhaps more surprising, the least.)
All this bacterial swabbing appears to be creating a continent of crazed cleaners. “I’ve become a cautious germ freak,” Peter J. Sheldon told The New York Times this week , describing how, when travelling on a plane, he cleans his seat cushions, armrest and tray table with disinfectant wipes, “weathering countless stares from other passengers.”
The science is mixed: Some studies suggest that a proper handwashing with water and soap kills some bacterial better than hand wipes (the trouble is, few people perform a proper washing, which includes removing their rings). Another study found that for a common virus hand sanitizers worked better.
In reality, this may simply be an example of “what we don’t know won’t hurt us” – at least for the most part. Bacteria is everywhere, and no amount of wiping is going to change that. Some exposure to it is even good for us.
But that won’t stop the swabbing: It’s just good business to gross us out.