The 5 Germiest Items in the Grocery Store, According to Data

These high-touch items could be getting you sick.

When hordes of shoppers are packed into tight grocery store aisles, it's easy to imagine how germs might spread. Yet the items that probably come to mind first as the dirtiest are actually among the cleanest, one study suggests. CBC's Marketplace swabbed 137 items in 24 different grocery stores and found that grocery cart handles were surprisingly clean compared to other, less obvious threats. Wondering where bacteria and viruses may be lurking in your favorite store? Read on to find out which five items that you'd never suspect are actually the germiest.

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5
Produce

shopping for produce
Tassii / iStock

When we check the ripeness of produce, many of us do so by squeezing. That means that countless hands have probably touched your fruits and veggies before they make their way into your grocery cart. One study conducted by Reuse This Bag (RTB) found that grocery store produce had three times more bacteria than your average toothbrush holder—a good reason to wash it thoroughly before eating it.

4
Freezer doors

woman buying frozen food at supermarket
Shutterstock

The Marketplace study looked at germs on freezer doors and found that these high-touch surfaces were widely contaminated with bacteria and viruses. In fact, the RTB study notes that their own swabs of freezer door handles revealed 1,235 times more bacteria compared with the surface of your average cell phone.

3
Grocery cart baby seats

A boy is shopping with his mom in a supermarket.
Shutterstock

Grocery cart handles were found to be less contaminated than the researchers initially suspected, likely because they're now wiped down more frequently than other items in our post-COVID era. However, grocery cart baby seats—where many people put small food items—were found to be consistently contaminated with fecal bacteria, most likely from children with dirty diapers.

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2
Basket handles

Woman Shopping at Grocery Market Pharmacy. Supermarket Shopper Doing Groceries. Female Holding Basket Trying to Decide which Products to Buy. Retail Healthcare Medicine, Vitamins, and Supplements.
iStock

According to the Marketplace study, basket handles were the second most contaminated surface in the grocery store. These are among the germiest items thanks to their high touch and turnover rate.

"It's almost impossible to wipe off all the surfaces that people might touch," Leann Poston MD, MBA, MEd, a consultant for Invigor Medical recently told Eat This! Not That. "Baskets are stacked and then used. Even if the baskets were thoroughly cleaned, they might be contaminated when removed. Unlike shopping carts, it is tough to keep your shopping basket away from personal items and clothing."

1
Checkout PIN pads

Woman with bank card buying food at grocery store or supermarket self-checkout
Shutterstock

Finally, coming in at the number one spot, checkout PIN pads and self-checkout screens were found to be the germiest items in the grocery store. These are likely very infrequently wiped down since they must be turned off to be cleaned safely, prohibiting the practice of cleaning between customers.

This means your best bet is to sanitize your own hands before and after entering the grocery store—and especially after checking out. You can't stop the store from being covered in germs, but you can help protect yourself and others from the spread of illness.

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Lauren Gray
Lauren Gray is a New York-based writer, editor, and consultant. Read more
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