22 November 2011

The Dirtiest Public Surfaces - U.S. vs. Norway

With the advance of the colder months it is natural for people to turn their look inside and to start preparing for more time spent indoors. Since autumn and winter are also good grounds for developing flu and colds, at about the same time each year we tend to get over sensitive and protective to our health. But it is disturbing that as the years progress the dirt that we are exposed to in public areas gets more and more.

I would have thought that in a highly technological and developed society as is the case with our Brave Western World, people would have realized long the importance of personal hygiene but alas, the contradiction between technology and personal care not only persists but it is getting deeper.
Photo: NancyFphotos
The dirtiest surfaces in the USA
I believe by now most of you are well acquainted with the results of the Kimberly Clark sponsored research that revealed the top 7 dirtiest public surfaces in the U.S. According to Dr. Charles Gerba, Professor of Microbiology at the University of Arizona:
“This new testing is compelling because it underscores the importance of hand and surface hygiene. Most cold and flu viruses are spread because people touch surfaces in their immediate area and then touch their faces, other objects and other people. Washing and drying your hands frequently throughout the day, can help prevent your risk of getting sick or spreading illness around the office.”
From bad to worse the top 7 dirtiest public surfaces in the U.S. are:
7. Vending machine buttons
6. Crosswalk buttons
5. Parking meters
4. ATM buttons
3. Escalator rails
2. Mailbox handles
1. Gas pump handles

The dirtiest surfaces in Norway
Since things in Europe are always a wee different than in the U.S. I would like to let you in on a research conducted by the Infection Control Service in Kristiansand - one of the Southern municipalities of Norway. While the Kimberly Clark tests could be considered as misleading, with regards to their supposed hidden agenda (we all know what Kimberly Clark are selling, don't we?), the testing in Norway was not funded by any company and was conducted with the help of Eurofins, - a leader in food and pharmaceutical products testing. It is also number one in the world in the field of environmental laboratory services, and one of the global market leaders in agroscience, genomics and central laboratory services. 

Although different, the results of this research are mind-boggling. It employed a slightly different methodology - instead of measuring the levels of Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) on public surfaces as was the case in the U.S., the number of bacteria was counted. Before I go on, I would like to point out that not all bacteria are harmful. Yet, it is common sense to try and reduce your contact with public surfaces.

6. Again, from bad to worse, the object with the lowest amount of bacteria is also the one with the smallest surface - a 20 kroner coin received as change. It proved to carry a total of 17 different bacteria.

5. The door handle of the town cinema follows with 60 bacteria.

4. As I already pointed out things in Europe are slightly different and here is another proof - the fourth place is reserved for gas pump handles. Unlike U.S. where they are the dirtiest, in Norway they only sport the humble number of 80 bacteria. I believe one of the reasons could be the disposable gloves you can use to grab the handle.

3. The ATM and the crosswalk buttons seem to be equally dirty, with a total of 100 bacteria found.

2. With an equal amount of germs, 120, here follow the handle to the medical center of Kristiansand and the mouse of a publicly used computer.

1. The dirtiest public surfaces in Kristiansand, Norway are the inside handles of the public toilets. They have not less than 400 bacteria. The number of germs on the public W.C.s equals the combined number of all other tested surfaces!

The only conclusion I came up with, and one which has long been my private suspicion is that people don't wash their hands after they go to the toilet. I shudder when I think about this - the handle on the outside of the toilet door is cleaner than on the inside. 

I am having hard time coming to terms with the fact that in a world where you have the cleanest toilets possible, offering disinfectant liquid to clean the seat before you use it (though personally, there is no force on Earth that might make me actually sit on a public toilet), warm water, soap, paper tissues AND blow driers to chose how to dry your hands, you can be as lazy, careless and clueless as to not wash them. I don't understand that.

If anyone can explain that, please do! In the meantime, wash your hands for a minimum of 30 seconds.

Source: Kristiansand Avis, Nr. 46 - 17 November 2011


  1. Excuse me while I go wash my hands . . .

  2. I am in the US I wash my hands after using the bathroom and I always use a towel or tissue to open the door when leaving a public bathroom. I will continue to do this! Thanks for the info.

  3. Good information! I act like I never want to know this kind of thing, but I secretly do! :-)

  4. I wash my hands and carry sanitizer in my purse. It's just disgusting to think that people don't wash their hands after using the bathroom!

  5. Buying a sanitizer...! I'm your new follower from Blogging Buddies :)

  6. Yikes! I do wash my hands but that makes me think twice about what I'm touching every day!!

  7. Scary yuk!! I always use hand sanitizer after the gas pump...wish we had the option to use plastic gloves here...I would!

    So gross to think that people don't wash after using the restroom! :-( ICK!!

  8. Blech! How...interesting. ;) Haha, that's why I tend to use my elbows or a paper towel to open the doors of public bathrooms...yuck! :P

  9. I have seen studies like this too! Apparently, the men's toilets are worse than women's, but it's all gross. Some people suggest using a paper towel to open the bathroom door after you wash your hands, then holding the door with your foot, and throwing the towel away before exiting. That only works if there is a trash can right by the door. I usually have a little bottle of alcohol-based sanitizer in my bag for when I can't wash my hands and need to eat out.

    Another place that is probably filled with germs here is the handles and seats in the metro. Nothing is worse than having to hold on to a bar where someone's hand has just been sweating. Yuck.

  10. Oh, I'm so grossed out. lol By the way, I once saw someone carry in two ice cream sundaes into a public bathroom and leave them on the diaper changing station. And presumably, one of those sundaes was for someone else... Ugh.