As a preface to what you’re about to read, the intent of this article is not to make you paranoid. The purpose is to create awareness!
Public places can often times be much more contaminated than you think. A simple trip to the grocery store can expose a person to a staggering array of germs. These can potently translate to sicknesses and diseases.
While working at a grocery store, this concept is something that I drastically overlooked. My role at the grocery store where I was employed was to complete the duties of the produce department. Every morning I came to work bright and early and received produce orders from the delivery trucks. I worked pallets of produce and created organized displays.
I also completed the task of reworking all of the produce displays. I’d go off of that day’s inventory and rearrange the department accordingly. It was during this step that Iculled literally all of the produce we were selling. This means that I would pull each section, one at a time, and analyze the condition of everything. The overripe was discounted and the random moldy or unsellable stuff was documented and thrown out.
This process required me to touch all of the produce, and on the busy days I didn’t always have time to wear gloves. In fact, there were several occasions where we ran out of gloves altogether yet continued work as normal.
This is not acceptable in the slightest and here’s why.
After working at the grocery store for several months I became severely ill one day. Between the time I woke up and got in the shower that day, I was literally floored from an unknown sickness. My body was in so much pain that it took everything in me just to get to my phone and call my Father for help.
I was rushed to the closest hospital emergency room.
Once at the ER, the issue escalated. My body was displaying every possible negative symptom and I was in an intolerable amount of pain. It felt as though my body was turning against itself. Test upon test was conducted until a doctor finally stated that they believed I had contracted meningitis.
The crucial step to determining my diagnosis was unfortunately a spinal tap. Or in my case…three spinal taps. After this and some correlating blood work were finalized I was officially diagnosed with neisseria meningitidis, a predecessor to meningitis.
This condition is surprisingly not that uncommon. Around 10% of adults unknowingly have it lying dormant in their bodies. Although neisseria meningitidis is a bit less severe it can become full-blown meningitis at a rapid rate.
Once treatment and antibiotics started being administered to me, the reasons why this happened began to unfold. This was not an easy diagnosis however, because there weren’t any clear cut reasons as to why I got the meningococcal meningitis in the first place.
After copious questioning, a group of a few doctors had answers for me. The most likely source of all of this was my otherwise healthy place of work. The direct contact with the customers of the produce department was the most likely culprit. I would never work another shift without gloves again.
I was touching produce all day that was offhandedly tainted. When moving older produce displays around I was exposed to what was being touched by the general public all day, every day. This means I indirectly touched all of their coughs, sneezes, sweat, spit, and whatever else was on the hands of customers. Being exposed to this can be risky, and it was especially serious in my case.
78% of shoppers report that when they go shopping, they spend most of their time reading the nutrition labels to make a better purchase. So it would appear that health consciousness is extremely important to a lot of people.
However, there are other potential health risks that exist, down to the basic idea that high-traffic, crowded, public areas are a harbor for germs and bacteria.
Sanitize Your Shopping Cart and Your Hands
Ever notice how pretty much every grocery store has a large container filled with sanitizing wipes near the shopping carts? This is by no means a coincidence.
Researchers from the University of Arizona conducted a study on the shopping cart handles of 85 carts from four states. The following two statistics are surprising and eye-opening.
-72% of the 85 carts examined, turned out to have a marker for fecal bacteria.
-51% of those (18 of the 36) carts also tested positive for E. coli.
Sanitize your hands, shopping cart handles, and shopping baskets before using. Otherwise you may find yourself in an unknowingly ‘crappy situation.’
Mindfulness of Your Germs (and Your Kid’s Germs too)
Keeping your germs to yourself, especially when already sick, is a basic level of respect to practice when in a public space. Surprisingly, this concept is overlooked by a lot of shoppers. While working in grocery stores, I witnessed just about everything.
From customers sneezing all over freshly cleaned glass doors, to shoppers producing coughing fits with no attempts to cover their mouths, people sometimes forget basic guidelines of courteous behavior relating to their own sickness and germs.
Be mindful of this. And be mindful of the ways in which your children are spreading germs around these places like wildfire. Lead by example and cough into your elbow when you are sick. Do your part and contain your sicknesses rather than spreading them. It’s the respectful thing to do.
And for the love of God, do not change your baby in a shopping cart, ever. Believe it or not, I’ve seen that happen.
Wash Your Produce
The vast majority of items in a produce section share one commonality: they are constantly touched by customers. While this is simply a quality check for most, it’s important to think about how many people likely touched that perfectly ripe avocado before it got to that point.
It’s smart to sanitize your hands before and after touching produce while at the grocery store. But it doesn’t end there.
The FDA states that people should always wash all produce under running water before cutting, cooking or consuming. This is standard protocol for all produce, even if you’re not planning on consuming the outer layer or peeling of a food.
No questions, just wash it! It’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to potential foodborne illnesses.
Be Conscious of Meat Section “Rules”
When buying meat such as fish, beef, pork, and poultry there are a few important guidelines to follow.
First and foremost, always check the dates on meat. Expired meat is toxic and dangerous to humans. If the sell by date is quickly approaching, it’s usually not worth buying.
Check the condition of the packaging as well. Are there any tiny holes or openings in the plastic? Is juice from the raw meat leaking from the packaging at all? If so, it’s a great idea to let a store employee know. Keep meat away from everything else in your shopping cart and use extra plastic bags to avoid leaky meat transportation. Afterall, who knows how much your groceries could potentially move around in your trunk on the way home?
Finally be sure to pick up meat at the end of your shopping trip. This cuts down the amount of time it’s spent unrefrigerated, keeping it colder for a longer amount of time.
Grocery stores can be a surprisingly unsanitary place. What are your shopping best practices? What do you do to combat this? Post your sanitation skills or grocery store horror stories in a comment below.
Written By Robert Parmer