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.