Secret Swabs - Bathrooms - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Secret Swabs - Bathrooms

We have really put our secret swabs to work over the past few months.  We've dug up the dirt on all kinds of surfaces.

"Pretty nasty stuff," says Allen Blaylock.

Blaylock wondered what we might find in public bathrooms.

"Bathrooms, bathroom door handles, towel dispensers, faucets," lists Blaylock.

We took Allen's suggestion and ran with it by sneaking our hidden camera into a number of public bathrooms across the city.  We hit fast food restaurants, the public library, a shopping mall, and Beale Street.  Using a sterile sponge and rubber gloves, we swabbed virtually every surface.  It was clear that not everything gets flushed.

"I would not consider that a clean restroom," says Microbiologist Connie Cook.

Cook, who works with A & L Analytical Laboratories, once again took our sponges and grew bacteria on special plates.  She counts every colony by hand.  Two of the bathrooms we tested stood out.

"Two bathrooms that had what I would consider unacceptable levels," says Cook.

We found high levels of E-Coli and Coliforms.  Both bacteria come from fecal matter.  Both can cause intestinal disorders like diarrhea or even worse.

"I don't think these counts are conducive to healthy environments," says Cook.

The McDonald's next to the main library on Poplar Avenue had the highest E-Coli count.  It had more than 3200  colonies.  We paid the restaurant a visit to show the manager our results.  Manager Yolanda Douglas told me she could NOT comment on camera, but was clearly taken aback.  BB King's on Beale Street had the second highest levels.  We found more than 2800 colonies of E-Coli in the women's room.

"I don't want to do this on film," the manager told us when we confronted her with the results.

She did tell us that the bathrooms at BB King's are cleaned every morning.  Cook suggests they clean a little better.

"Whether it's a bleach-based cleaner, your Pine Sols, Lysols, all of these clean and kill E-Coli," says Cook.  "It's a relatively easy bacteria to kill," she adds.

Most of the public bathrooms we tested apparently do a pretty good job.  Only trace amounts of the really nasty stuff turned up, which is to be expected.

"I've been very cautious about places I've been and what I've been touching," says Blaylock.

It's something he will continue to do now that he knows exactly what secrets some mid-south bathrooms are hiding.

In addition to on-site managers, we also contacted upper management of the places we tested.  We received their responses late Monday.

John Bradley of BB King's says, "We do clean the toilets and sinks each morning with bleach water."

McDonald's owner Fred Tillman E-mailed us saying, "We follow stringent daily sanitation and cleanliness procedures and provide antibacterial soap to both our customers and employees to ensure a safe, clean restaurant environment."

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