You obviously expect your local supermarket from where you get your food to be as clean as possible. However, most supermarkets are pretty big and busy places so it makes it hard for employees to keep every inch perfectly cleaned. Additionally, supermarkets see so many people daily which are potentially carrying germs.
“Supermarkets are filled with a diverse community of people, which are bringing different bacteria from their homes, workplaces, cars, and more,” explains Colleen Costello, co-founder and CEO of Vital Vio, a company that produces chemical-free LED lighting to kill bacteria.
These people, of course, “are gathered around an area full of food—and not only touching this food, but touching the carts, shelves, and self-checkouts,” she explains.
Find out what spots, in particular, tend to get forgotten in the cleaning process, and what should you do to keep your food to stay safe? These are the areas that grocery stores don’t want you to see.
When you think about how many people step on the supermarket floor daily, coming in from inside in all kinds of weather. Sadly, the employees don’t clean the floors as much as they should considering the amount of traffic.
David Serville, CEO of New Zealand–based commercial cleaning company Crewcare, warns that, even if the floors may look clean, they might not be. “When the floor is freshly polished, customers would be convinced that it’s genuinely clean,” he says.
“But mopping and polishing aren’t all there is to it. What you need to be careful of are the grocery items located right next to the floor: dusty bags of chips, squished juice boxes that can lead to spills (and attract ants!), and unidentifiable products left on the floor for a long time. These are the things you need to pay attention to.”
You’d expect supermarkets to at least take care to properly clean the places where they keep their food, but, according to celebrity Devin Alexander, this isn’t the case. Alexander, who shops frequently at grocery stores and cares about food safety, sees the lack of maintenance in dairy areas particularly concerning.
She remembers that there was a period of time when she went shopping, and she repeatedly smelled something weird on milk cartons that weren’t close to the expiration date. She identified the same exact smell in the entire dairy section. “I realized…there had clearly been a spill on that section of the milk shelf,” she explains. “I reported it to the manager a number of times and they said they’d ‘handle it.’ And didn’t.”
Only after she threatened them with calling a health inspector that they finally cleaned the counter. Conclusion? They neglect cleaning some areas even if there it has been a spill.
Grocery shelves are most of the time really packed, so you can’t see anything beyond the first row, and the stores don’t want you to! They always want the shelves to be fully stocked, which can mean that those shelves are being cleaned less than you’d think.
Martina D., a former grocery store employee, has an icky first-person account of the unpleasant state of the backs, and bottoms, of grocery shelves. “Unless there is a spill on them, they are not cleaned much,” she says.
“In one location I worked, we were moving the shelves around to redesign the store. Not only was there various food [residue] under them, but also a huge cockroach!”
Even though this is probably an extreme example, keep in mind that it’s probably been quite some time since they’ve cleaned those shelves.
Checkout conveyor belts
Placing your groceries on those checkout conveyor belts doesn’t make you cringe a little every single time you go food shopping? Most of the time, they look and are visibly dirty.
“The main area for bacteria to harbor is certainly around the registers,” Costello says, citing the fact that they’re such high-traffic areas.
It’s almost impossible to ever see those conveyor belts clean, considering how many people can be in line everyday.
“These areas are touched by multiple customers, employees included, and the conveyor belt is filled with germs and bacteria from food and hands,” Costello warns.
The register area
According to Hales, there is a silver lining when it comes to conveyor belts, considering the fact that they’re an obvious spot for germs. Sometimes they look dirty, even if they probably get cleaned more often than any other areas that don’t regularly look as dirty.
While Hales says that his employer actually did keep the belts pretty clean, “I don’t recall anyone ever cleaning any other portion of the register or bagging area (except perhaps the item scanning base).”
Glass cases stains and dirt is a little mre prominent and visible.
“The glass doors in the freezer section are often so covered with dirty fingerprints that you [have] to open the doors just to see what’s inside,” Backe says.
While this is, of course, annoying to see, it can also be unsanitary: “This means that the spread of germs from the door to the item you’re about to pick up is practically inevitable.”
He also notes that, if this isn’t the case at your local supermarket, it is a pretty good sign that the rest of the store is clean and above average in terms of cleanliness.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise. Carts and their handles on which you spend most of your grocery session holding, don’t get cleaned as often as you’d think. And it’s not just the handle that is full of viruses.
“In my three years at the grocery store, I never once witnessed any employee significantly clean any cart,” says Derek Hales, the Editor-in-Chief of Modern Castle, who spent three years working at a popular Midwestern supermarket.
“Our only instructions were to remove any bags, items, or papers left behind. The carts were never cleaned beyond that,” he adds.
Make a habit out of carrying some wipes or hand sanitizer with you when you go grocery shopping.
“A quick wipe-down of the grocery cart handle, or sanitizing your hands before and after entering the store, could make a difference in whether you pick up these germs or not,” Costello suggests.
Another area that is full of germs. You probably saw many statistics about how many germs are lurking on your smartphone. Just imagine how many they are on a self-checkout screen that gets touched by so many people every day, specifically, people who “have been casually picking up and handling produce, packaged meats, money, and shopping carts,” adds Dr. Nidhi Ghildayal, PhD, a Public Health Researcher at the University of Minnesota.
“In general, screens are not sanitized often enough to keep up with the number of shoppers that pass through,” Dr. Ghildayal says.
However, this is another potentially germy situation that you can avoid by carrying wipes with you to add a buffer between you and the germs.