The hidden hazards of shopping

The hidden hazards of shopping

We all know that shopping can take a toll on the health of the checkbook, but do you know it can also take a toll on your health?

By now, most of us are aware of the health risks associated with shopping carts – from the nearly 20,000 children under 5 years of age who fall from shopping carts each year, to the bacterial and viral microbes that live on the shopping cart handles.

But what about the health risks found in the aisles of supermarkets and department stores … and even at the checkout counter? From the beginning to the end of your trip, there is potential exposure to many other organisms that can potentially harm your health. Many of these are in the form of bacteria.

When you consider that most infections or chemicals enter the body through breaks in the skin or when a person exposed to bacteria touches his or her eyes, nose or mouth, there are some simple steps that you can take to keep yourself and others healthy when shopping.

  • Wash your hands frequently.
  • Wipe down shopping cart handles with the courtesy disinfecting wipes that are often found at the entrance of many stores.
  • Keep contact with your receipts at a minimum.
  • Always keep your undergarments on when trying on clothes.
  • Wash or treat newly purchased clothes before you wear them.
  • Avoid using sample or tester cosmetics.
  • Avoid trying hats on in the store. Bag them for a few days and then try them on at home.
  • Cover your feet when trying on shoes and disinfect your shoes after your bring them home.
  • Wash reusable grocery bags after each use.

For more details on the health hazards of shopping, continue reading.

Bacteria doesn’t live long, right?

Infectious microbes are all around us; what is often not realized is how long bacteria and other infectious organisms can live on dry, inanimate surfaces.

Consider these facts: E-coli can live up to 16 months, C-diff spores have a “shelf-life” of up to 5 months, staph and strep both can live over 6 months.

These facts take on more importance when people realize that health-compromising microbes have been found on clothing, especially women’s underwear and bathing suits, in cosmetics, and in shoes. When we think about the number of people in the store, the potential for infection can be intimidating?

Would you like a receipt?

According to the Environmental Working Group, many receipts contain the chemical bisphenol A (BPA), a plastic hardener and synthetic estrogen, which has raised some concerns linked to the increase risk of breast cancer, prostate, thyroid and other developmental effects on the brain, behavior and prostate gland health of infants and children.

This chemical coats the thermal paper and reacts with the dye to form the black print on receipts. The BPA on these receipts can easily rub off on hands, in purses, or on food stuffs, allowing people to absorb the chemical through their skin or to ingest it.

Many stores have changed the type of thermal paper that they use for receipts; to that end, the nation’s largest thermal paper manufacturer, Appleton Papers in Appleton, Wisconsin, removed BPA from its products in 2006.* Source Environmental Working Group

Keep your contact with your receipts to a minimum to reduce BPA exposure.

Limiting Other Sources BPA Exposure

According to the National Health Institute’s National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences National Toxicology Program (NTP), there are some things that you can do to limit your exposure to BPA, which in addition to receipts, can also be found in some water bottles, infant bottles, food cans, bottle tops, and food storage containers.

  • Don’t microwave polycarbonate plastic (recycling number 7) food containers. Polycarbonate may break down over time when exposed to high temperatures.
  • Reduce your use of canned foods.
  • When possible, opt for glass, porcelain or stainless steel containers, particularly for hot food or liquids.
  • Buy baby bottles and water bottles that are BPA free.

Is new really new?

According a Good Morning America (GMA) test in January of this year, new clothes may not always be as new as the buyer may think. While most people think clothes that they buy off the rack have never been worn before, shoppers need to keep in mind that many other people may have tried the clothing on before it was finally purchased.

GMA bought 14 articles of clothing and had them tested by Dr. Philip Tierno, director of microbiology and immunology at New York University. According to the report, Dr. Tierno found respiratory secretions, skin flora, fecal flora, and vaginal organisms and yeast on the garments – sometimes in amounts far above normal – indicating that either many people tried on the garment … or the clothing was tried on by someone who was heavily contaminated.

If you must try on underwear or bathing suits, add a layer of protection by keeping your underwear on – and don’t count on the hygiene strips, which can also trap organisms if people have tried the intimate apparel on before you.

And, Mom was right. Before you wear new underwear or a new bathing suit, wash the garments. If your laundry detergent does not contain an antibacterial agent to kill the fecal flora, you may want to pre-treat intimate garments with an antibacterial agent like lemon juice or peroxide before washing them. This may also help prevent staph infections or gastro-intestinal illness like the stomach flu.

For other garments, you may want to run them through a cycle of a hot dryer before wearing.

How should you buy a hat?

Very carefully. We warn children about sharing combs, brushes and hats with kids at school for fear of picking up head lice, yet, how many adults pull a hat off the shelf, try it on and stand in front of a mirror for a few seconds to see how it looks? Often, people have the misconception that because an item is in a store it is new and therefore germ or pest free.

Actually, one of the best ways to buy a hat may be to purchase the hat, seal it in a plastic bag for a couple of days and then try it on. According to the Wisconsin Division of Public Health, Department of Health and Family Services, head lice only survive for approximately 6 to 24 hours without a blood meal from a host.

Now, with the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation (July 2010) that children continue to go to school if they have an infestation of lice, the prevalence of this expensive nuisance may increase as people become more mobile when treating a lice infestation.

Shopping for Shoes?

Many people wear flip-flops into the showers at school or at the gym to protect their feet from athlete’s foot fungus. But did you realize this fungus can also exist in the aisles of your favorite shoe or department store?

Shoppers can protect their feet by always keeping them covered with socks when trying on shoes and disinfecting any shoes they buy by spraying a disinfectant in the shoes before they start wearing them regularly.

Use caution in the cosmetic aisle

Experts recommend that women pitch mascara after 6 months of use because of high levels of bacteria. If our own bacteria can cause problems and make us ill, how much more can the “sample” mascara compromise our health.

While make up is expensive, you should avoid using test make up if possible. Mascara, eye liners and eye shadows can cause infections like conjunctivitis and other eye infections. Sample lipsticks, lip liners and lip glosses contaminated with herpes simplex virus may contribute to an outbreak of cold sores. Blushes and foundations also can harbor bacteria and may cause skin irritations. Many times the necessary treatment to cure infections related to the use of sample cosmetic products is more expensive than simply purchasing the make up in the first place.

Don’t let going green make you sick

With all the focus today on going green and saving the earth’s resources, many people have started using reusable shopping bags. These bags are often made of canvas or recycled material, which can be used over and over again. Reusable bags are sturdy and convenient when shopping at discount or warehouse food stores.

But did you know that when not cared for properly, these reusable bags could put your health at risk? Studies show that 97 percent of people do not wash their reusable bags.

Since the bags often carry raw food, bags that are not washed after each use could carry E. coli, salmonella, yeast, mold and other harmful microbes.

Shoppers can avoid cross-contamination by keeping uncooked meat separate from raw vegetables. The harmful bacteria that are destroyed when cooking the meat, could still remain active on vegetables that may eaten raw or used in a salad.

Bottom line? Stay healthy while helping the environment. Avoid cross contamination from trip to trip by washing your reusable grocery bags in hot, soapy water after each use.