shopping malls

Four bacteria hot spots in shopping centres

Thursday, March 30, 2017

There are many areas in shopping malls where people are likely to catch viruses, such as E. coli, norovirus and influenza, to name a few. According to a recent article by Zuzana Bleha, marketing and communications manager at Deb Canada, 80 per cent of germs are spread by hands alone. Yet even though studies show that one in five people wash their hands, only 30 per cent of them use soap. Assuming people are not washing their hands correctly, it becomes even more imperative to note specific high-touch areas. Here, Bleha lists four areas of concern.

Public Restrooms

Frequently cleaning areas can often hide the most bacteria. A toilet seat has only 150 units of bacteria compared to a sink, which has 50,000 units per square inch of bacteria, according to Biocote. After washing your hands, you will likely want to dry them; this can also get tricky. When choosing between a hot air dryer and paper towel – stick to one paper towel. Studies show it is a far more superior at reducing bacteria from hands than any alternative. Other areas to avoid are the tap and the first and last thing we touch – the door handle. Make sure you use a paper towel to open the door, or else a respectable hand washing effort will have gone to waste before you even leave the restroom.

Food Courts

Wherever food is present, there is a high risk of cross-contamination and the potential for foodborne viruses. That’s why the busy mall food court is one place that harbours several varieties of bacteria. Along with a team of microbiologists from McGill University, CBC Montreal Investigates/Radio-Canada took samples of tables, food trays and garbage bin flaps in several Montreal shopping centers in 2015. Their findings showed that while no serious food-borne illnesses were found at the time, there was a large variety of bacteria present. Most were on the flaps of garbage bins, so it’s advisable to avoid touching them with your hands. It’s also advisable to avoid putting your cutlery or food on the trays.

Shopping Carts

Shopping carts or baskets often carry fecal bacteria, an easy way transmit colds or the flu virus. A 2012 study by Charles Gerba, Bacterial contamination of shopping carts and approaches to control. Food Protection Trends, found that out of 85 shopping carts, 50 per cent harbored E. coli, while 72 per cent had fecal bacteria. Since handles are high-touch features that are usually not cleaned well, they are often loaded with bacteria. It’s a good idea to carry anti-bacterial wipes to clean them off before shopping, especially in the presence of small children who tend to touch everything.

Reusable Bags

Reusable bags have become very popular when shopping because they help reduce the amount of waste that goes into landfills; however, washing them isn’t common. In fact, one study found that 97 per cent of shoppers have never washed their reusable bag. Of the 84 bags tested, 83 contained coliform bacteria (which comes from uncooked food), along with E. coli in 12 per cent of the bag. Since meat products may leak into a bag carrying non-food items like clothing, there is an increased risk of spreading bacteria like E. coli and Salmonella. To prevent this from happening, regularly machine washing reusable bags and using grocery bags only for groceries.

Debit Machines, ATMs, and Money

Cash and coins have long been found to harbor pathogens including Staphylococcus and the flu virus, which can live on the surface of paper money for more than 17 days. The bacteria found on money is more than that found on an average toilet seat. A study of cash machines/ATMs carried out by microbiologists at Biocote revealed that keypads are dirtier than public toilet seats. The samples retrieved contained concerning bacteria called pseudomonads and bacillus which can cause sickness and diarrhea.

A New York swab study that tested 66 ATMs in and around the city also found that keypads were abundant with bacteria. Most concerning were the ones found in stores that had the highest amounts of lactic acid bacteria, found in decomposing plants or milk products. Frequently, food and skin were found on the keypads, most likely a result of people not washing their hands after eating.

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