Health experts say one of the nastiest objects you will ever touch is a shopping cart while buying groceries.
Shoppers load their food, purses and even kids into these carts, which studies have shown are contaminated with everything from E. coli to salmonella to fecal matter.
Two Birmingham businessmen have taken matters into their own hands and found a solution to this problem, which has become more distressing in light of the continuing worldwide spread of the coronavirus.
“This virus has created a lot of awareness about the power of the unseen,” said Tyler Stone. “Grocery stores are doing all they can. But they don’t have any control over who comes and goes in their store, and they can’t micromanage what goes into every cart, whether it’s a leaky bag of chicken or a kid with a dirty diaper.”
Working together, Stone and Hugh Lee invented a self-contained cleaning machine that sprays nontoxic, sanitizing solution onto shopping carts to kill germs and harmful bacteria.
“We sanitize the whole cart so you don’t have to,” said Lee, who, along with Stone, founded Sanitizit, the Birmingham-area company that manufactures and sells the system. “Because of the virus, stores now have one or two employees whose whole job is wiping down carts. This machine is a more cost-effective, efficient way to sanitize them.”
The machine is easy to use and can be conveniently wheeled anywhere in a store, Lee said.
Grocery store employees or shoppers can roll one cart or multiple carts into the unit, push a button and presto! The quick-dry sanitizing mist cleans the entire cart. They can use an attached wand to spray other items, like handbaskets, cash registers or scooters.
“It was made using grocers’ input, and I think that’s the reason it has had such success,” Lee said.
The “germ” of an idea came to Lee eight years ago while grocery shopping with his wife and their then-4-year-old twin daughters.
“I was watching my wife, Jamie, wipe down the handles and the seat, but the first thing the girls did was jump in the back of the cart,” he said. “I told Jamie, ‘You should have sanitized the whole cart.’”
With that idea in mind, Lee did his homework, learning about the many germs and bacteria that live on shopping carts. He found out that these germs, which can lead to serious illness, are spread by the many hands that touch the carts day after day.
Stone said demand is growing by leaps and bounds. The company is “in negotiations with grocery store chains from coast to coast and even overseas,” he said.
Bill Davis, vice president of A&R Supermarkets, had planned to purchase the systems for his five stores in central Alabama before the COVID-19 pandemic brought an increased emphasis on sanitization. Now the units have become an integral part of the “cleaning” process at his stores – the Food Outlets in Calera, Brent and Tarrant, the Food Market in Leeds and Associated Foods in Clanton.
“It has been useful, not only for cleaning grocery carts, but we also use the wand on the side of the equipment to spray down other things like counter tops, drink machines and anything else that hands can touch,” Davis said. “We’ve had a lot of good comments from customers. It has definitely reassured them that we’re doing everything we can to keep the store clean and sanitized.”
AJ Marino, owner of Marino’s Markets, said when he first saw the Sanitizit system in action, he knew it would be the “perfect solution” for his two Birmingham-area stores.
“Safety is the biggest thing in retail,” said Marino. “Hand-wipes are a terrible waste and clog up landfills. This is way more efficient because it’s a 360-degree cover for the whole cart. Our customers love it because it guarantees a clean cart, and they can see it with their own eyes.”
Knowing that grocery carts are not the only items that get dirty, Lee and Stone have developed Sanitizit backpacks. The mobile system can clean wheelchairs, conveyor belts, scooters and much more.
Lee and Stone said they are proud to have played a role in helping to make the sanitization process easier and more convenient for grocery store employees and customers.
“It’s overwhelming and very humbling to see our vision come to life,” said Stone. “Now you don’t have to worry when you put your apples or oranges or even your purse into a cart. You can go into a store, confidently grab a cart and you’ll know it has been sanitized from top to bottom.”