With Black Friday on the horizon you’re probably thinking about that great deal you’re going to score. Or you’re busy planning your ever-growing holiday gift list. But this Black Friday, you may be bringing home more than you bargained for — your favorite big-box stores are some of the germiest places out there, harboring bacteria like E. coli and MRSA, and even fecal matter. Yuck.
So what shouldn’t you be touching at Costco, Walmart, and Target? Here are seven of the worst offenders.
1. Self-Checkout Computer Screens Self-checkout computer screens are supposed to make your life easier, right? Think again. Although they may expedite your wait in line, its probably time to reconsider how you pay. Dr. Charles Gerba, a professor of microbiology at University of Arizona in Tucson, found that about 65% of all screens have fecal bacteria on them, with some even showing evidence of E. coli and MRSA. It’s enough to make us want to wait in line. (Photo: Getty)
2. Coffee Cup Lids Who doesn’t love an in-store Starbucks, especially in the midst of a shopping marathon? But the lid of your cup could be passing on more than just caffeine. Gerba says “coffee cup lips — where you put your mouth on the paper coffee cup — get contaminated by the person who puts the lid on for you.” According to a 2010 study by Gerba, 17% of all disposable coffee cup lips tested positive for coliforms (bacteria that can originate from fecal matter). If you’re planning to grab a cup of joe, seriously consider bringing your own reusable cup. Keep the lid while your barista fills the cup. Beyond avoiding that icky bacteria, you’ll usually get a small discount (and do the environment a favor). (Photo: iStock)
3. Food Sample Stations Food samples are staples at stores like Costco and BJ’s — particularly during prime-time shopping hours. But Danielle Walker, a family nurse practitioner in Southport, Conn., says there’s no way to know who touched the samples before you — or how clean the hands and utensils of the person preparing the food are. Add to that a 2010 E. coli outbreak being linked to cheese given out at Costco, and that crab dip on a cracker is looking a lot less appealing.
4. The Cart Handle This one’s an oldie but goodie! After all, we’ve all heard that cart handles are filthy. According to Gerba, the evidence doesn’t lie — in some areas of the country, 70% to 80% have E. coli on them. His easy fix? “It’s good to use a disinfecting wipe on the grocery cart handles and seat,” he says. Bonus: lots of stores have a handy dispenser located adjacent to the carts. Grab a few extras for your trip through the aisles — you may need them. (Photo: Getty)
5. Refrigerator Handles Remember your shopping cart? The same rule applies to refrigerator handles. Think about the hundreds — maybe thousands — of people who touch these on a daily basis, and imagine how frequently (or infrequently) they’re wiped down. Luckily, you stashed extra wipes when you picked up a cart. Give the handle a swipe before grabbing that economy-size bag of vegetable dumplings. (Photo: Getty)
6. The Conveyor Belt Next time you’re placing your purchases on that conveyor belt, take a minute to think about what you’re not seeing. A 2009 study analyzed 100 conveyor belts in 42 stores and discovered high microbial populations on all the samples. Yes, all of them. The good news is researchers didn’t find any food-borne pathogens or MRSA. The bad news is those belts are just plain filthy. The bottom line? Avoid touching and putting any unwrapped food directly on them. If you’re checking out something that doesn’t have a disposable wrapper, give it a once-over with an antibacterial wipe before putting it away or using it. (Photo: Getty)
7. The Cash-register Receipt You’ve probably heard of BPA — it’s the chemical that was banned from plastic water bottles a few years back. A 2014 study found that cash register receipts also contain high levels of bisphenol A (BPA). Blood spikes of BPA were particularly evident in those people who used hand sanitizer or lotion immediately before handling the receipt. Some stores now give you the option to choose an emailed receipt rather than a paper one. Take it if you can. And hold off on that lotion or sanitzer until after you’ve paid. Better yet, skip the fancy pumps and wash your hands in the restroom after checking out (don’t forget to go heavy on the soap). It — along with that big-screen television — will be the best decision you make all day. (Photo: Getty)