In one of more the more upsetting health studies recently, researchers discovered that virtually all touchscreens in multiple McDonald’s locations at two cities in the UK were covered in fecal bacteria.
It seemed like a great idea when computerized order-entry kiosks opened up in fast food outlets a few years ago. But it looks like the health hazard such kiosks pose could backfire badly on both the businesses and the customers who use them.
The new research, conducted by the London Metropolitan University, checked eight separate McDonald’s restaurants in London and Birmingham. Each location had its own unique and equally hazardous contamination, ranging from Staphylococcus to listeria.
As Dr. Paul Matawele, one of the lead researchers in the study said about the results, “We were all surprised how much gut and faecal bacteria there was on the touchscreen machines. These cause the kind of infections that people pick up in hospitals. For instance, Enterococcus faecalis is part of the flora of gastrointestinal tracts of healthy humans and other mammals. It is notorious in hospitals for causing hospital acquired infections.”
As to the specific contaminants, they included staphylococcus, a bacteria which has recently showed resistance to antibiotics, the relatively rare bacteria listeria which can cause major problems for those with weak immune systems, the bacteria proteus which is behind septicemia, and Klebsiella, a bacteria present in the gut and mouth, which is a cause of urinary tract infections, septicemia and diarrhea.
One of the major concerns from the study is that even as touchscreens are becoming more common as a means for customers to input and interact with all kinds of devices, from ATMs to self-service locations in supermarkets, to devices like these food order entry screens at McDonalds, a larger percentage of the population is going to come in contact with them. People often touch them without having washed their hands, often either before or after coming in contact with them. And even if the touchscreens themselves are cleaned regularly, each such screen is only one contaminated person away from leading to someone else coming in contact with dangerous bacteria.
As to the question of whether or not there is something unique about McDonalds versus other kinds of touchscreen technologies, the sad truth is that there probably is. Fast food locations are about people in a hurry and also filled with very young children, all of whom are likely careless about washing their hands both before and after eating, or after using a bathroom in the vicinity.
So while the restaurant itself may prepare food as safely as it can, these sorts of mass-contact touchscreen environments are likely to become even more hazardous as they become more ubiquitous in the future.