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Food Safety News

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Hidden Contamination at Checkout: Grocery Conveyor Belts

Opinion

Few places are dirtier than the checkstand conveyor belts at your local supermarket. Going round and round, year after year, conveyor belts may look clean, but they are actually a breeding ground for unwanted bacteria. Shoppers place billions of products on these contaminated belts, exposing foods — and families — to potentially harmful pathogens.

For many Americans, the black conveyor belts have been around for as long as they can remember and for good reason: these belts are virtually indestructible, with a lifespan of 30-plus years.

Unfortunately, what makes them last is also what makes them unsanitary: Checkstand belts are made from PVC, a petroleum-based material that’s durable, but it acts like a petri dish for bacteria.

Studies by the International Association of Food Protection show that yeast, mold, staph and coliforms are living and growing on these belts. On the Today Show, microbiologist Connie Morbach found “organisms that are typically associated with open wounds and could cause infections.” And, if you think your store is safe, think again. A recent study by Michigan State University showed bacterial contamination on 100 percent of belts tested.

Another problem with checkstand belts is that they are porous, so you can scrub them day and night, but you can never get them fully clean. And replacing an old belt with a new one isn’t much help because the new belt will be fully contaminated within six months.

What can be done?

One solution is for supermarkets to install antimicrobial conveyor belt covers. These covers go on top of the black belts and kill bacteria before they start to grow. They also have a non-porous surface, so you can actually get them clean.

Cleanliness is a key attribute of supermarkets with the highest ratings of shopper loyalty and satisfaction. Supermarkets that want to stay ahead of the curve in the cleanliness category will likely be exploring the use of antimicrobial technology on checkstand belts and other contaminated surfaces.

© Food Safety News
  • J T

    Also, it doesn’t help that all the raw chicken packages leak toxic raw chicken juice onto the belts. Unless the belts are going to be cleaned and sanitized after EVERY customer, then our foods will still get contaminated from all the people who went before us since it was last cleaned.

  • VTChick

    Is there a date on this? Because the “recent” study was done in 2009, and while it did indicate the presence of Staph aureus and coliforms, the belts tested were negative for pathogenic E. coli, Salmonella, Listeria, and MRSA. No doubt there are supermarkets that just wipe off their belts, but others take the time to clean and sanitize. I know because I work at one. On a high-volume day, however, you’re bound to find plenty of stuff on there. Also on doorknobs, handrails, cart handles, and everything else we touch. Some of this “reporting” is really over the top when it comes to significance.

  • rdverb

    seems like an early morning spray with 10% chlorox would be worthwhile to prevent buildup

  • http://burningbird.net Shelley Powers

    One of the benefits of using the self-check out line. That, and I can bag my material the way I want it bagged.

  • Alice

    Wow, I might start ordering groceries on Amazon!

  • crs

    No kidding, like this is a surprise?

  • joepoli

    We don’t shop at stores that sell meat that leaks blood out of bags.

  • SeaKat

    Would those antimicrobial covers be treated with triclosan? If so, that presents another problem as triclosan is a carcinogen. There has to be a better way.

  • lerose55

    I think if I said that to my food store they would look at me like I have 2 heads. But believe me when I put my stuff on the belt I always think when was it cleaned last. But I do not put my fruits or veggies on it without putting it into a bag. I also put my meats in a plastic bag to keep it from leaking on the belt. Yes it is disgusting.

  • Enzo

    None of us will be able to afford food soon the way it’s going what difference does it make.