This is National Shopping Cart Safety week, and a reader in South Carolina informs us that the struggle to give children a safe place to sit as we shop is not over.
Dear Martin: I have a small child who rides in the seat of the cart. I can't tell you the number of times I have had to go through several carts before I can find one that has a working safety belt. I have actually avoided several stores because of this. I did talk to a manager at one of the stores and they responded by installing new belts. I would like to get the word out to all supermarkets, that something as inexpensive as a simple seat belt may be costing them valuable customers. Kim Jones, Aiken, S.C.
Dear Kim: Thank you for writing. It seems that many supermarkets that installed seat belts on their shopping carts several years ago have forgotten about them. They do not put seat belt inspection and replacement on the "to do" list when carts are periodically overhauled. Concerned parents, like yourself, are what's needed to get action.
I am also concerned with another aspect of shopping cart safety: The health hazard of dirty and unsanitary carts. Dangerous germs can lurk on the handle, in the seat and the basket. This past summer, I received a note from a reader in Texas. Last spring, her 2-year-old son contracted Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS) from the E.coli virus. HUS is a very nasty disease, often fatal and this little boy spent three weeks in the hospital. She believes he contracted the virus from the shopping cart.
"I do not need an expert to tell me that E.coli is a problem and leaky meat trays are a danger," she wrote. "I remember my son holding the cart handle. There was no other explanation."
Solution from down under
In Australia there is recognition of the need for cart sanitation. The Queensland Government recently sent a "Cleaning of Shopping Trolleys" circular to food retailers. (In Australia carts are called trolleys.)
The circular begins with this statement: "The hygiene of shopping trolleys and baskets has been questioned in several public forums with concerns over potential disease transmission issues relating to environmental contamination, contact by multiple handlers (shoppers) and placing young children in cart seats. Several studies have identified that shopping trolleys may be contaminated with E.coli, Campylobacter and other similar pathogenic organisms."
The Queensland Government places shopping carts in the same category as food handling equipment: "Trolleys and baskets are considered to be equipment under the Food Safety Standards Code which defines equipment as: a machine, instrument, apparatus intended for use in food handling ..."
The circular continues: "As trolleys and baskets are used for the storage and collection of food (by shoppers) prior to sale, by definition, they are used for the handling of food. Consequently, a food retailer has a requirement to maintain trolleys and baskets to a standard of cleanliness (and) an obligation to regularly clean them."
It ends with this important instruction: "Local government Environmental Health Officers should include shopping trolleys and baskets into routine inspection programs to ensure that food retailers are complying with these requirements."