The Worst Thing You're Touching at Walmart, Infectious Disease Doc Warns

You may wipe down the shopping cart, but don't forget about this high-touch surface.

COVID-19 isn't the only germ lurking around the venues we visit in our daily lives. Colds and flu happen, too—and even though getting hit with one of these ailments may not be especially dangerous, it's still not fun. That's why it's important to be aware—not fearful, but aware—of areas of potential concern when we're out and about. Here, Thomas Russo, MD, a professor and chief of infectious diseases at the University at Buffalo, explains what to know when shopping at Walmart or other big-box retailers. Read on to find out the worst thing you're touching at Walmart.

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The credit card keypad is the highest-touch surface at Walmart.

Walmart checkout
Von QualityHD / Shutterstock

When you're out for a shopping trip at a big-box retailer, your biggest potential for exposure is through the highest-touch surfaces in the store. Typically, that includes shopping carts—but amid stringent cleaning protocols in the era of COVID, stores often sanitize these. Therefore, your biggest exposure to an unclean high-touch surface is likely going to be the credit card keypad at the checkout line, Russo says.

"If you're using a credit card, you have to swipe the card and you have to sometimes hit the keys or enter your phone number for the store's bonus plan," Russo says. "So that's one of the greatest high-touch surfaces in the store."

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Don't fear the keypad, but practice good hand hygiene.

Columbus,Ohio/USA March 30,2019: Walmart is the largest consumer retail chain in the country. Consumers waiting in line to pay for their purchases.

Walmart shoppers should be aware of the keypad at the checkout line, but shouldn't fear it. Instead, they should focus on practicing good hand hygiene during and after shopping.

"You can touch a contaminated surface and it's all fine as long as you don't touch your eyes, nose, and mouth before [practicing] hand hygiene," he says. "You don't have to freak out. We know that we've been erring on the extraordinarily conservative side in the age of COVID. But even the age of COVID, as long as you take care of business with hand hygiene and be cognizant [to] not touch your eyes, nose, and mouth before you do that, you're OK."

Carry hand sanitizer, and use it often.

Parents teaching their baby how to use hand sanitizer

If you know you're going to be tempted to touch your face before you get a chance to wash your hands, carry sanitizer with you when you shop. Most big-box retailers like Walmart and Target make it available in stores, too.

"If you know you always rub your eyes because you have allergies or something, have your little bottle of hand sanitizer handy and just take care of your hand hygiene," he says. "Or most stores have the alcohol-based hand sanitizer on the way in and the way out—grab a splash of that."

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Safer shopping practices should be here to say, infectious disease doctor says.

person washing hands at sink

Russo says that COVID has foregrounded issues that can help people make safer everyday choices when shopping in Walmart or other big-box retailers, even long after the pandemic recedes.

"We have learned from COVID and the public is acutely aware of modes of transmission of infectious agents," he says. "The public also became aware of the increasing importance of hand hygiene, and I would like to think that moving forward that people practice good hand hygiene as the order of the day. Hopefully, people will start to make that part of their fabric of daily living."

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Alesandra Dubin
Alesandra Dubin is a lifestyle editor and writer based in Los Angeles. Read more
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