Shopping cart covers are intended for children old enough to sit up (about 6 months to 3 years). To minimize germs, it's best to wash the cover after every use. But you can stop the spread of germs more effectively by thoroughly cleaning the cart seat with disinfectant wipes before you buckle up your baby for a ride.
A shopping cart cover should also keep your child safely seated. The safest models feature two straps, one to secure her to the cart and the other to secure the cover to the cart.
Where the germs come from
Shopping carts can harbor many germs, some of which come from previous passengers. Some kids gnaw on cart handles, touch them with dirty hands, or wear a leaky diaper while sitting in a cart. Other shoppers leave germs on cart handles, too, sometimes even from the blood of raw meat, according to Kelly Reynolds, an associate professor at the University of Arizona in Tucson. Reynolds is also the lead author of a study published in the International Journal of Environmental Health Research that found that most shopping carts teem with germs. Blood from raw meat can carry salmonella, E. coli, and campylobacter, and can infect children who chew on or touch cart handles and then put their fingers in their mouth.
Reynolds said that many germs, including those that cause MRSA (an antibiotic-resistant infection) can "survive very well on fabric." That's why he recommends washing shopping cart covers in hot water with a bleach-based disinfectant, and drying them completely every time they're used.
If you don't think you can commit to washing the cover after each use, skip this purchase and use the sanitizing wipes many stores provide, or bring your own to wipe the shopping cart handle and seat before placing your child inside. Sanitizing wipes can do a good job of reducing the germ load.
Even after wiping, discourage your baby from gnawing on the handle by bringing along a favorite teething toy. Wiping the cart is a good practice even for older children, who may want to ride in the small plastic cars or seats that some stores attach to their carts. Before you let them grab that plastic steering wheel, wipe it down. Some stores now offer miniature carts that older children can push around the store themselves. When you wipe off your cart handle, take a moment to wipe off the junior-sized cart handle as well. And remember: Everyone should wash up after a trip to the store.
Cleanliness issues aside, shopping cart covers can make for a cozy ride for the very young. If that's important to you, go with a cover that has ample padding and provides good cart coverage (no exposed metal or plastic). Buy a cover with a dual safety-belt system (one that keeps baby in place and another to attach the cover to the cart)--and use both every time you shop.
Jennifer Battista, the mother of a 2-year-old son, said she bought a shopping cart cover as soon as he could safely sit up on his own, at around 7 months. While she likes the protection it offers from germ-laden carts, she also likes its system of two safety belts. "It has one belt attached to the cover that we use, it has holes for the legs, and it has a Velcro strap that goes under the cart to hold it together. I definitely think it's safer. It keeps him pretty contained within the seat, so he's not going to fall out of the cart. And the toys on it are nice, too, because it keeps him occupied while we are shopping."
Copyright © 2006-2012 Consumers Union of U.S., Inc. No reproduction, in whole or in part, without written permission.