Betty Murphree is like most people. She makes routine trips to the supermarket. But, she says she has never really thought about the cleanliness of shopping carts.
"I hadn't thought about it until I saw on TV you were doing it," says Murphree.
Now, she's curious. Many other Action News Five viewers are too. Many suggested we swab shopping carts. So, we did. We visited about half a dozen grocery and/or retail stores around the Mid-South. We hit Memphis, Cordova, Midtown, Horn Lake, and West Memphis too. Once again, our hidden camera captured our covert testing. Using sterile gloves and a sponge, we swiped shopping cart handles and seats. Even the sides of the carts were not safe. Anywhere hands may have touched them. We took our sponges to microbiologist Connie Cook, who does the "dirty work" by testing for a number of bacteria. Those include E-Coli and Coliforms. Both come from something nasty.
"Fecal matter," says Cook.
But Cook considers the results of this latest test encouraging.
"Only one showed anything at all," she says.
That one was the Wal-Mart Super-center in West Memphis. Our shopping cart sample grew 18 colonies of Coliforms.
"That type of level could come from conceivably somebody who used the restroom and not washed their hands," says Cook.
It could also come from a baby wearing a dirty diaper who sat in the shopping cart seat. In the right situation, the levels we found could cause problems.
"Any type of digestive problems, vomiting, diarrhea, something with the digestive system," says Cook.
While the results were not off the charts, we went to Wal-Mart to ask them how they clean their carts.
"Our managers usually stay on us about keeping things clean, so we try and keep everything clean," says Customer Service Manager Christina Nichols.
She says greeters often wipe down shopping carts. And sometimes, when windows are cleaned, so are the carts.
Ultimately, it's up to you to make sure the cart is clean. Some supermarkets are making it easy by providing sanitizing wipes. You simply whip one out and wipe down the cart. Many shoppers consider it a selling point. Donna Metler has a small child.
"I don't trust her not to chew on it," says Metler. She will put her hands on her mouth, so we keep real careful," she adds.
We're told these wipes are available to customers at every Schnuck's supermarket. Perhaps other stores will catch on.
"We know what these bacteria can do," says Connie Cook. "How sick they can make people," she adds. "No one wants to take a chance," says Cook.
Clearly, some stores already do a good job of keeping carts clean. Then again, we could not put every store to the test. It's something to think about the next time you go shopping.
*Here are the other stores we tested. No significant levels of bacteria were found.