Gross-ery shopping

There was a story on the news the other night about some grocery stores installing mini car washes to wash their shopping carts after each use. At first I thought it was an extravagant and silly idea. But when the reporter pointed out that toddlers in diapers sit in the exact same spot where I usually put my apples and avocados, I saw the wisdom of the idea.

When I told people about the cart washer, it seemed that it was pretty common knowledge among most shoppers that grocery carts are the modern plague carriers and not to touch one without wearing gloves and then throwing the gloves away.

I never noticed it before, but now I see diapered toddlers sitting in the carts all the time. What could possibly go wrong? They never leak. And small kids like to lick and bite things. Itís a natural part of growing up. It makes them immune to common bugs in our culture. But now that I realize that sticky stuff I feel every now and then may not be the dried up soda I thought it was, but baby saliva or more. I wonder if a simple cleaning is enough? Maybe I should only shop at places that steam-clean their carts. Maybe they should be sterilized like surgical instruments in a hospital. And then zapped with germ-killing X-rays.

Iím not asking supermarkets to take any more precautions than I do at my own home. Iím proud to say you could eat off my kitchen floor. If you donít mind having cat hair, top soil and dust bunnies in your food. Of course, I donít expect that level of cleanliness from a public place with hundreds of people pushing dirty carts around all day. But now that I watch shoppersí behavior from a germ-spreading point of view, I am not sure simply sterilizing the carts is enough. Iíve seen small children lick apples and then put them back. Iíve seen adults wipe their noses and then go back to pushing a cart. I donít want to sound like Howard Hughes, Iím not germophobic, and Iím certainly not wealthy. But I am grossophobic.

One customer put a package of bloody meat on the bottom of a cart and it left a red trail all over the floor of the grocery store. I know because I was that shopper. I shouldnít have put the 40-pound container of cat litter on top of it. I didnít notice it until they said, ďClean up in aisle one, two, four and seven.Ē I was in aisle seven looking for the mess when I realized it was me. By then it had stopped leaking. I quickly moved to aisle eight. I put the roast back in the meat case and got another one. People can be so disgusting. I know because I am one. I should have left the meat at the end of the checkout counter the way most people do, and one of the store staff could have restocked it seven hours later. I was just too embarrassed.

Jim Mullen is the author of ďIt Takes a Village Idiot: Complicating the Simple LifeĒ and ďBabyís First Tattoo.Ē You can reach him at

Copyright 2008, Newspaper Enterprise Assn.

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