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Originally published Friday, July 25, 2008 at 12:00 AM


Washer gives grocery-cart blanch

The Kirsch brothers want you to know: At Chevy Chase Supermarket, it is safe to lick the shopping carts. Not that they recommend it, but...

The Washington Post

WASHINGTON — The Kirsch brothers want you to know: At Chevy Chase Supermarket, it is safe to lick the shopping carts.

Not that they recommend it, but as co-owners, along with their dad, of the independent grocery store outside Washington, Jason and Kevin Kirsch know how common it is for their youngest customers to treat cart handles like lollipops. Worse, they know how unnerved people have become in recent years over alarmist reports that rank shopping carts with public-restroom toilet seats in terms of germs.

So the brothers this week installed what they said is the area's first full-scale shopping-cart wash, a push-through device that sprays a misty peroxide solution over each cart between every use. It dries in a few seconds, leaving behind a faint whiff of beauty parlor and a cart promised to be 99.9 percent germ-free for the next customer.

"It kills all the nasty stuff, salmonella, staph, E. coli," said Bob Schwei, a technician with PureCart Systems, the Wisconsin-based manufacturer of the glossy white machine, which resembles an airport X-ray machine. "They're very popular in Korea: bird flu."

As Schwei finished installing the unit next to the row of checkout aisles, customers stopped to see the first sanitized carts roll through. Suzi Walsh, a self-described germ-phobe and a regular customer, said she had been waiting for the new system since the store announced it was coming several weeks ago.

"I'm the kind of person who uses a bit of paper towel to open the bathroom door," said Walsh, who said she prefers shopping in the winter when she can leave her gloves on. "This is great. I see the kids scratch their diapers, then grab the cart. No, no, no. I'm way beyond that."

Jason Kirsch said parents with young children are likely to be the most excited by the prospect of a clean cart. He made sure his collection of kiddie carts, the ones with big plastic police cars and firetrucks bolted to the front, would fit through the machine. "Hey, I'm the father of three," he said. "I know the first thing they want to do is chew, touch, feel."

A few aisles over, in the pasta section, Marti Robey, a mother of five, said she knows all about the powerful draw shopping-cart handles can have on toddler tongues.

"You turn back with something from the shelf, and they've got their mouth wrapped around it," Robey said.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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