Restaurants have been urged to “think laterally” about bacteria protection in their premises following revelations about the cleanliness of self-service touchscreens.
Traces of faeces were found on every one of the eight McDonald’s touchscreens swabbed in an investigation by newspaper Metro last week.
Samples were taken from the new machines that have been rolled out at restaurants across the country – and each showed the presence of coliforms.
Senior lecturer in microbiology at London Metropolitan University, Dr Paul Matewele, said that unsuspecting diners choose their food on the touchscreens then head to the server to pick up their burgers, often without washing their hands.
“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,” he commented.
“Touchscreen technology is being used more and more in our daily lives but these results show people should not eat food straight after touching them, they are unhygienic and can spread disease. Someone can be very careful about their own hygiene throughout the day but it could all be undone by using a touchscreen machine once.”
Metro’s study with the university’s school of human sciences involved swabs taken from six McDonald’s restaurants in London and two in Birmingham.
Listeria bacteria was found in Oxford Street and Holloway Road branches. Three quarters of the screens swabbed showed traces of the bacteria proteus.
A screen at one branch was found to have staphylococcus, a bacteria that can cause blood poisoning and toxic shock syndrome. Dr Matewele said: “Seeing Staphylococcus on these machines is worrying because it is so contagious. ‘It starts around people’s noses, if they touch their nose with their fingers and then transfer it to the touchscreen someone else will get it, and if they have an open cut which it gets into, then it can be dangerous.”
Although McDonald’s cleans the screens with disinfectant throughout the day, Dr Matewele questioned the strength of the cleaning agent. “These bacteria can be on touchscreen machines for days on end,” he said.
The fact that touchscreens are harbouring these germs and bacteria despite being regularly and thoroughly cleaned illustrates that there needs to be some lateral thinking when it comes to solving this problem.
Byron Dixon, CEO of international freshness brand Micro-Fresh, said that restaurants and bars need to think more about the effectiveness of their current disinfectant options.
He believes the McDonald’s tests show that greater care and consideration needs to be taken when considering the hygiene and safety of customers in the food and drink sector, especially on surfaces that are touched before eating.
Mr Dixon said: “The recent headlines about bacteria on ordering screens, including Enterococcus faecalis, should be a real red flag for food and drink venues. The fact that touchscreens are harbouring these germs and bacteria despite being regularly and thoroughly cleaned illustrates that there needs to be some lateral thinking when it comes to solving this problem.
“The concern is that naturally these findings are the tip of the iceberg – if the screens are covered in these highly-dangerous bacteria, which other surfaces in the restaurant are similarly contaminated?
“It’s not something that customers necessarily want to think about, but as ever-growing numbers of restaurants and bars move towards self-order, self-serve systems, the amount of shared contact with surfaces is only going to increase.
“If retailers want to avoid any future issues and dismiss any concerns, whilst seizing an opportunity to differentiate and do something proactive, they need to look at how they can prevent these germs from thriving on the surfaces in the first place.”
A McDonald’s spokesman told Metro: “Our self-order screens are cleaned frequently throughout the day. All of our restaurants also provide facilities for customers to wash their hands before eating.”