Terence Pillay Investigates: Toxic trolleys

Terence Pillay Investigates: Toxic trolleys

In the first episode of East Coast Breakfast’s brand new feature, 'Terence Pillay Investigates', seasoned journalist Terence Pillay takes a closer look at the harmful organisms found on shopping trolleys that may pose a risk to our health.


Listen to the audio or read the details below: 

It’s a seemingly mundane thing that we all do as part of our shopping routines – we all use shopping trolleys. But how many consumers ever give a second thought to what organisms may be lurking on the trolley and causing harm to our health?

According to a local health and hygiene firm, a 2011 study in the United States found that supermarket shopping trolleys rival the average public toilet as a health risk. A South African study has not been done, so with the help of the Microbiology Department of the University of KwaZulu-Natal, we sampled forty random trolleys from five of South Africa’s leading supermarket chains in Durban - and the results were shocking!

Professor Ade Olaniran, Dean of the School of Life Sciences and lecturer in the Microbiology Department at UKZN, monitored the experiment. Professor Olaniran believes that the host of organisms found on the trolleys had likely been transferred by people who don’t wash their hands after using the toilet. He says toilets are disinfected but supermarket trolleys aren’t. And these trolleys then become the breeding ground for bacteria.

And while most consumers don’t think twice about using shopping trolleys without giving them a once over with a sanitizing wipe, the City Health Department warns that it can expose you to more risk than you might appreciate.

Neil Larat, the Deputy Head of Pollution Control and Risk Management of the City Health Department, says while they conduct regular inspections at least four times a year, this is not specific to trolleys but to the establishment as a whole. He says his department hasn’t done any tests but will welcome the opportunity to extend our study with UKZN’s Microbiology Department and see what they come up with.

Dr John Enoch, a Medical Doctor, believes that a stricter stance should be taken with shops that don’t clean their trolleys. He says the diseases caused by the organisms we found in our sample study is cause for concern. Dr Enoch feels that there needs to be more education and awareness when it comes to the disease-causing organisms found on trolleys.

These are the results of what we found in our small sample of just forty random supermarket trolleys. 

Microorganism  n/40 (%)

Escherichia coli - 3/40 (7.1)

Total Coliforms - 32/40 (80.0)

Staphylococcus (yellow colonies), presumptive S. aureus - 35/40 (87.5)

Staphylococcus (colorless to pink colonies), presumptive S. epidermis - 14/40 (33.3)

MRSA - 24/40 (60.0)

Salmonella - 5/40 (12.5)

Shigella - 31/40 (77.5)

Lactose fermenting Gram-negative rods - 11/40 (27.5)

Non-lactose fermenting Gram-negative rods - 27/40 (67.5)

Enterococcus faecalis - 23/40 (57.5)

Total heterotrophic bacteria - 40/40 (100)

Yeast - 12/40 (30)

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Do you have a story you would like Terence Pillay to investigate? You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter: @terencepillay1 and tweet him your lead. 

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