OMG – Nooooooooooooo. There are GERMS in fast food restaurant play areas

OK my headline is a bit over the top.  But it is reactionary to some over the top claims by a doctor from Arizona worried about germs in play areas.

The Sacramento Bee has an article about a crusade by a woman named Erin Carr-Jordan who is apparently trying to rally the troops around the country into worrying about microbes in play areas in fast food restaurants (see Campaign targets filth at fast-food playgrounds – Sacramento Business, Housing Market News | Sacramento Bee.)

Good to see many UC Davis faculty trying to put some calm into this story.  The reporter Lynn La did a David playinggood job of presenting a dissenting point of view – that finding microbes in play areas is not surprising and may not be dangerous.

Now mind you – I am not saying that we should think that play areas are perfectly clean and safe.  And it is not that bad an idea to consider that where there are lots of kids, and food, there may be bad germs.  But as far as I can tell, the studies referred to here do little more than show that in samples from play areas one can culture microbes related to known pathogens.  That does not alarm me.  Microbes are of course everywhere.  What we need are better ways to screen for actually bad microbes as opposed to just screening for potentially bad microbes.  And we need to have some information on what it means to find actually bad microbes somewhere.  For example, if E coli O157:H7 was on a play structure – how likely is it that a kid could become infected?  I have no idea.  But to interpret studies of this kind we need much more information.

 

Jonathan Eisen

Professor at the University of California, Davis. Biologist and blogger with a focus on evolution and ecology of microbes and their genomes & openscience. Lab Site . Twitter

12 thoughts on “OMG – Nooooooooooooo. There are GERMS in fast food restaurant play areas

  1. From what I read she did not do a good job reporting this story. I have read it in other publications in other cities, and online as well as watched the videos that the woman created. Some of the leading researchers in pathology and environmental micro have commented and affirmed her findings and assertions. She is verifying her results with her partner who has a PhD in micro. It seems like this reporter did not get all the facts.

  2. I am not saying cleaning play structures is a bad thing – but this work seemed to be tinged with a bit of excessive germapohobia that could be damaging – microbes are everywhere and many of them are harmless – many others are beneficial – and even when some potential pathogens/bad microbes are present rick may be low or negligible -

  3. Thanks for the links – though many of those are based on the same story. Also – I note – we ask for people to post their name with comments so it would be good if you could post your name. Anonymous comments are discouraged and may be deleted.

  4. Personally, I would be more concerned about kids eating fast food than “germs” in play areas.

    1. OMG Barbara I can’t believe I did not think of saying that. You are absolutely right. I note – for that reason – I have not been to a fast food restaurant since my daughter was born six+ years ago …

  5. Well this story has stayed in the news and keeps popping back up. The development today was interesting however, the prof pushing the story has been banned from a number of McDonald’s in her area.

    I’ll note that she did find MRSA. Of course that doesn’t mean that there’s any real risk of transmission but at least it’s more informative than “germs”.

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