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How many germs live on a grocery cart handle?

The bacteria counts on produce were measured. And here is where it gets interesting.

Bacteria can be found on grocery carts, door handles and produce.
Bacteria can be found on grocery carts, door handles and produce.Read moreiStock

If this story doesn't get you to use those antibacterial wipes at grocery store entrances, nothing will.

The California-based organization decided to celebrate its 10th anniversary of making "green" reusable grocery bags by swabbing items in grocery stores for bacteria. It's an odd choice, considering that most companies would have just popped for bagels and coffee but … whatever.

The group visited unidentified grocers in four categories — traditional, budget, superstore and upscale — to see what microbes are lurking on carts, door handles and foods. They sent their swabs to EMLab P&K, an environmental lab in New Jersey, for testing. They then compared the results to common household items, which can also harbor an abundance of filth.

The grossest carts are found in traditional grocery stores. They had the highest bacteria count – 73,000 colony-forming units (CFU) per square inch. That's 361 times more bacteria than a bathroom doorknob.

About 75 percent of the surface bacteria found on carts were identified as the kind that include fungus and can be associated with skin infections, and 90 percent of those were the kind that were antibiotic-resistant.  They also detected trace amounts of bacillus, which is linked to food poisoning, and yeast, which can lead to skin infections.

The bacteria counts on produce were also measured, and those findings were suprising.

Upscale grocers had more than 1,500 times as many germs on their fruits and veggies as traditional grocery stores. That might be because there are fewer chemicals used to grow them, the study noted. Bottom line: Always wash your produce.

Refrigerator doors were another magnet for bacteria.

Those at traditional grocers were found to have the most, with 326,695 CFU per square inch — roughly 18 times the amount found on a used pet toy. Superstores had 1,235 times the bacteria found on a cellphone. The research found that refrigerators doors harvested mostly gram-positive bacteria, such as streptococcus and staphylococcus.