Swabs find self serve as germy as a public toilet

Items touched by thousands of Queenslanders each day have the same levels of bacteria as a public bathroom, raising concerns the state has become complacent in the battle against COVID-19.

A Sunday-Mail investigation has found self-serve check-outs, trolleys, tables and escalators remain covered in high levels of bacteria despite the pandemic forcing Queenslanders to seriously consider their own personal hygiene.

Worryingly, a widespread move to use self-serve check-outs to limit contact with supermarket workers may be doing more damage than good.

Of the ten locations tested by The Sunday-Mail, a self-serve checkout at a major supermarket recorded the highest level of bacteria.

Hundreds of people line up to get into a supermarket before lockdown.
Hundreds of people line up to get into a supermarket before lockdown.

A swab of the checkout touchscreen revealed it had 2400 bacteria units per square centimetre - comparable to a toilet seat or public bathroom.

The next highest recording was from a table at a popular riverfront destination, which recorded a bacteria unit count of 240 per square centimetre.

A food court table at one of the state's largest shopping centres was the third dirtiest of the sites tested, recording a bacteria count of 70 units per square centimetre.

A shopping trolley left in the carpark of another centre had 34 bacteria units while an escalator rail in the same precinct recorded six per square centimetre.

Concerningly, a lift button in one CBD building used by the state's high flyers featured a count of 15 bacteria units per square centimetre.

Jennifer Motsch with her phone which was found to be very clean. Pic Adam Head
Jennifer Motsch with her phone which was found to be very clean. Pic Adam Head

Chef Jennifer Motsch's mobile phone, an item which usually carries thousands of bacteria, was relatively clean with just two units per square centimetre.

Ms Motsch expected a high bacteria count but was shocked by the result.

"I'm surprised at that actually. I thought it wouldn't be the case," she said.

"I do wash my hands a lot, everyone does within the food industry and I also use hand sanitiser a lot as well."

A reusable shopping bag, a taxi belt buckle and a bus handle all recorded less than two bacteria units per square centimetre - which according to Australian standards is clean enough to eat off.

Biotech Laboratories' General Manager Glen Pinna said the results were not surprising.

"With regard to trolleys handles, lift buttons, escalators and all those other places, I don't think anybody can set up a realistic cleaning program that will really guarantee these surfaces are bug-free," he said.

Biotech Laboratories’ General Manager Glen Pinna. Photo - David Kapernick
Biotech Laboratories’ General Manager Glen Pinna. Photo - David Kapernick

Mr Pinna, who has more than 40 years' experience in medical and environmental microbiology, said the checkout touchscreen "had a lot of bacteria".

"This could be a problem if the microbes present included pathogens and someone touched this surface and either touched food they were about to eat or their finger found its way to their mouth," he said.

However, Mr Pinna said overall, the surfaces remained relatively clean.

"Eighty per cent of the areas tested all had relatively low levels of bacteria present," he said.

"Four of the areas had bacterial levels that are clean enough to eat food directly off them."

The result of The Sunday-Mail's investigation has raised concern Queenslanders could become complacent, with Griffith University Environmental Health Associate Professor Anne Roiko urging people to remain aware of public hygiene.

Griffith University Environmental Health Associate Professor Anne Roiko urging people to remain aware of public hygiene. Picture by Scott Fletcher
Griffith University Environmental Health Associate Professor Anne Roiko urging people to remain aware of public hygiene. Picture by Scott Fletcher

"As we've seen with the emergence of a second wave in New South Wales and Victoria, all that hard work could be undone," she said.

"There would be segments of the population who are risk-averse while others consider themselves immune or think it won't affect them. 

Like we got used to using less water during the drought, it's all about maintaining good habits."

BACTERIA EXPLAINER

Bacteria, good and bad, is a necessary part of all our lives. It is estimated that one gram of faeces contains nearly 100 billion bacteria and million to a billion viruses. Washing hands with soap after using the bathroom is good for removing particulate matter and killing viruses.

Biotech Laboratories' Glen Pinna

Originally published as Swabs find self serve as germy as a public toilet


Weekend of wet weather, storms headed for Granite Belt

Premium Content Weekend of wet weather, storms headed for Granite Belt

Rain and temperature forecasts warn Stanthorpe residents will need their brollies...

Southern Downs dog breeder pushes for major expansion

Premium Content Southern Downs dog breeder pushes for major expansion

Southern Downs dog breeder pushes for major expansion

Council to push through $3m+ projects under deadline crunch

Premium Content Council to push through $3m+ projects under deadline crunch

SDRC under pressure to start and finish several Warwick, Stanthorpe projects within...