Typically, food retailers are concerned more about keeping foodstuffs free from dirt and germs. Now some retailers are redirecting their attention to the cleanliness of their shopping carts as well.
According to a report released by the University of Arizona and the newsmagazine Inside Edition, shopping carts, which are often not cleaned more than a few times a year, can carry more germs than a public bathroom. E. coli bacteria, coliform, staphylococcus, blood, mucus and saliva have all been found on shopping carts -- especially on the handles, which are frequently exposed to such elements as raw meat, soiled diapers and dirty hands.
Recently, several retailers have looked into keeping their carts clean with agents like sanitizing wipes, cloth handle guards and plastic seat covers.
The most widely used product is a sanitizing wipe, much like the disposable wipes marketed to consumers by Reckitt Benckiser and Clorox. One such product used by stores is the SaniCart Wipe, from Nice Pak, Orangeburg, N.Y. Bruno's, Birmingham, Ala., has been offering consumers sanitizing wipes at its 150 stores for about four months. Bruno's makes the wipes available in a metal stand that is located near the shopping carts.
"The consumers like them, and we like them because there were times when there was a sticky candy or something like that and those wipes were right there," said Anthony Gagliano, co-manager, Bruno's Market, a Bruno's store in Homeland, Ala. "You didn't have to go running around."
AJ's Fine Foods, a 10-store division of Bashas', Chandler, Ariz., has offered sanitizing wipes to its customers for three months. Surveyed customers who use the wipes said they make a difference, but they have yet to become a mainstream staple, said Jessica Paolangeli, director of nonfoods for AJ's. Users tend to be high-end consumers who are also health-conscious, Paolangeli stated. "AJ's is in the high end, but not necessarily the health-conscious market. You've got to tie into a customer who is in both."
In addition to the sanitizing wipes, AJ's gives customers the option of purchasing the Handy Handle: a heavy-duty, machine-washable cloth that can be attached to the shopping cart handle with Velcro to protect customers. The cloth is black and features the AJ's logo in red; it sells for $7.99 in the stores. "I wouldn't say that 90% of our customers use the Handy Handle, but I will say it is an option that they have. It is a good thing that we have it here to sell," said Paolangeli.
Handy Handle customers bring the product with them on shopping trips, noted Sandra Johnson, president of Handy Handle.
The Disposable Clean Shopper, a plastic baby-seat cover for a shopping cart, will be available from Baby Ease, Pelham, N.H., in October. A package of three will retail for $9.99. Baby Ease also offers cloth versions of the Clean Shopper, similar to the Handy Handle product, but covering the entire seating area.
"Customers have been asking Baby Ease for a disposable version for some time, so we anticipate great response," said Ann Noder, spokeswoman for Baby Ease.
Not all stores are receptive to offering cart-cleaning aids, however. Johnson mentioned that when she was first asking stores to sell her product, they declined because it would be admitting that their carts were dirty.
"It was a catch-22. They knew they were dirty, but they didn't want to admit to it and do something about it," said Johnson.