Which everyday items have the most bacteria that could make your family sick?

Posted at 11:23 PM, Oct 31, 2017
and last updated 2017-11-01 12:40:59-04

There is something your kids and the entire family are bringing into your homes every day that is silently threatening your family’s health.

They hitch a ride on you and your kids and live on almost every item in your home. For days, they are silent and unseen until the dreaded stomach flu.

“I got it and I was down for three days and then it slowly hit two of my other daughters. That was the whole second week of Christmas break was spent nursing someone back to health.”

Melissa Macavage, of Detroit, Michigan, has three girls, a busy job and is an active volunteer at her church. To say her family is busy, is an understatement.

“Volleyball practice or volleyball game, homework, dinner, picking up my other daughter from her various events,” said Macavage.  

“Not much time for sickness, so after that stomach flu took the family out last winter, I took it to the next level,” she adds.

“Hand washing, I am militant about that. As soon as they get home from whatever their event is, I make them wash their hands,” Macavage explains.

So, we wanted to find out just what is lurking on those everyday items, the things all of us touch multiple times a day, every day of the week.

The lab at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit provided us with these swabs and taught our executive producer how to collect a sample.

We took seven samples including the television remote, Melissa’s cell phone, the bathroom door knob, the refrigerator door handle, a lunch box, the steering wheel and Melissa’s purse.

“When you rub the swab all over the specimen you’re targeting, so whether it’s the phone or door handle you’re picking up the bacteria that are colonized on the surface, then we bring it back to the lab and put it on these culture media.”  

Dr. Linoj Samuel is a microbiologist and Dr. Katherine Reyes specializes in infectious diseases. They work together at Henry Ford Hospital, regularly looking at samples to determine what an illness is and where it came from.

They analyzed our seven samples and shared them with Melissa.

“Most bacteria and viruses can cause some serious infection and some viruses like the flu virus can live on a surface for up to 8 hours,” Samuel explains.

When it came to the remote, there was a little surprise: some germs live on those surfaces normally and yet some should not be there like bacteria or germs that are on our mouth, then you see them on remote control.

“I wonder if they were having a snack then went and reached the remote,” she adds.

The item we thought would be the worst, turned out to be clear of bacteria.

“The cell phone, surprisingly, we did not find any bacteria which is somewhere that I would have expected to find a lot of bacteria but that might suggest recent cleaning, so it’s hard to say.”

The one item with the most and fastest growing bacteria was the refrigerator door handle.

“If you see this, that one can look scary,” Reyes said.

The doctors tell us none of the bacteria found on Melissa’s items is the type that would get a healthy person sick, but someone with a compromised immune system, the elderly or perhaps someone with a cut could develop an illness or an infection.

So, what can you do? Reyes says the best thing is also the simplest.

“Hand washing!” she tells us.

She also encourages regular use of cleaning wipes on all our highly-touched items.

Want to look at the types of bacteria found on all the items?

  1. Television remote control: Staphylococcus hominis and Streptococcus salivarius
  2. Cell phone: No growth
  3. Bathroom doorknob: Staphylococcus epidermidis, Staphylococcus capitis
  4. Refrigerator handle: Micrococcus, Bacillus species, Staphylococcus warneri , Staphylococcus epidermidis
  5. Lunch box: Staphylococcus hominis
  6. Steering Wheel: Bacillus pumilis and Corynebacterium pseudodiphtheriticum
  7. Purse: Staphylococcus warneri and Staphylococcus cohnii