Cleanliness tests shows how filthy and full of bacteria the things we use every day really are

By Benedict Brook

Photo / iStock
Photo / iStock

The fizzy drink can, which many of us happily wrap our lips around every day, could be harbouring more germs than a toilet seat.

News.com.au undertook a series of cleanliness tests to check the amount of organic matter and bacteria, which could include dangerous bugs such as salmonella and E.coli, on the things we touch everyday outside the home.

E.coli, commonly found in the intestine, can indicate the presence of faeces and is a cause of food poisoning.

The results showed that the items we come into contact with on the daily commute - including grab handles on trains and buses, road crossing buttons, ATM keypads and bathroom doors, are so filthy that if the surfaces were in a supermarket or hospital they would likely be shut down by a health inspector until they were deep cleaned.

Some surfaces were 10 times dirtier than the highest recommended levels of cleanliness.

The tests were conducted by sanitation and hygiene management company EarthEcco and look for adenosine triphosphate, an enzyme in all living cells that can be used to measure hygiene levels.

EarthEcco's CEO, Jake Tyson, said that ideally the test should have a reading of below 30 RLUs, or relative light units. "If it's above 30 it's not clean and you don't want anything between 135-300 as there will be a lot of bacteria. What it tells you is this area hasn't been cleaned properly."

"Salmonella and E.coli are the main strains that make you sick," he said. "You hear about cruise ships where people have been taken to hospital because of E.coli and you don't want to pick that up because you'll be coming out at both ends."

FAECAL CONTAMINATION

A US study of more than 200kg of store-bought beef found all of it contained E.coli, "bacteria that signified faecal contamination", reported The Sun.

That's right, poo.

Co-author of the Spotless series of cleaning books, Shannon Lush, told news.com.au there was a fiesta of filth festering on everyday items.

"There's a lot of bacteria out there and some of it's going to be harmful so you have to be careful with anything that a lot of people are touching.

"You wash your hands, you dry your hands and, when you leave the bathroom, you touch the filthy door knob. There's a thousand different nasties and you only have to have someone who doesn't wash their hands properly after going to the loo and you have E.coli."

The office toilet seat, perhaps unsurprisingly, did not come out well - recording a reading of 984.

But this was still below the drinks can, which had a reading of 1146. That meant it was likely to be teeming with bacteria.

"It shocked me," said Mr Tyson. "That the can was more dirty than the toilet seat made me realise I'm better off drinking out of the toilet than a can of fizzy drink."

Ms Lush said she wasn't surprised that the can didn't fare well.

"I don't drink out of soft drinks without a straw because there are some really icky things around and in transit that climb all over them."

The dirtiest items were those that are touched by hundreds of others. As such, public transport is a Petri dish of pathogens.

"At the moment I have the flu. I had to come into contact with somebody who had it, and for the first time in ages I took public transport, and I'm sure that's where I got it," said Ms Lush.

CROSSING BUTTON - reading of 623

Photo / iStock
Photo / iStock

"They are vile, absolutely vile," says Ms Lush. "I always use my finger nail instead so I have got less surface area to touch and my finger nail isn't absorbent and easy enough to clean."

ATM KEY PAD - readings of between 430 and 680

Photo / iStock
Photo / iStock

Cash machines, often caked in grime, can look like dirt dispensers. Surprisingly, there is lots out there more yukky than ATM key pads but the results are still way above the recommended level of clean.

TRAIN POLE - reading of 704

BUS POLE - reading of 1704

Photo / iStock
Photo / iStock

The readings for the pole you grab hold of when the bus is screeching to a halt were some of the muckiest in our test.

"There are lots of germs and bacteria on the way to work because there are more people on a bus or a train. There could be staph or MRSA inside a train or bus and they can turn into a disease," said Mr Tyson.

STATION ESCALATOR - reading 2337

Oozing with organic matter, the humble escalator was the filthiest thing we looked at, with readings around 10 times higher than recommended levels.

"It's there because there's a lot of people touching it but it's how that is controlled that makes all the difference," said EarthEcco's Mr Tyson.

LIFT BUTTON - reading of 584

Photo / iStock
Photo / iStock

Nowhere near as bad as station escalators, due to less people getting their mitts on it, but the reading is still beyond what would be considered as fresh and clean.

BATHROOM DOOR - reading of 860

Nudging 1000, and only slightly less than the toilet seat, loo door handles are popular with pathogens. Ms Lush suggests using a paper towel to open the door to ensure washing your hands wasn't a waste of time.

Going to the bank at lunch? Ms Lush says be careful in the queue because "banks are the dirtiest places," particularly the shelves you can lean on in some branches as "the rubberised surface absorbs sweat rather beautifully".

Be cautious of shopping trolleys, she said, where babies in leaky nappies may have been riding moments before you threw your fresh veg in. While it's not unheard of for people to catch head lice from cinema seats.

However, all is not lost, says Ms Lush. There are simple steps you can take to reduce the chance of picking up a bug.

"I have a tendency to wipe everything down with alcohol wipes before I touch it."

When going to the loo, using your hip or shoulder to open the door means the bacteria doesn't go straight on your skin. She also recommends a little bottle of antiseptic hand sanitiser in your handbag or on a key ring for sticky situations.

But some of the dirtiest places are our own office desks, as news.com.au found out in March, with readings regularly above 1000.

As for the drinks can with a reading of over 1000? EarthEcco's Mr Tyson gave it a quick spray with a chemical free hospital grade disinfectant and the reading went down to just one for a thirst-quenching and bacteria-busting cold beverage.

- news.com.au

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