A Dirty Look: A search for household germs - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

A Dirty Look: A search for household germs


If you were looking for germs, you probably wouldn't start in the kitchen.

 "You try to keep your house clean," said Sue Emden. "At least I do."

 Sue's house is not just clean...it's immaculate. Nothing is overlooked, not even her salt and pepper shakers.

 "I do wipe them down, sure!," said Emden.

 You'd be hard pressed to dig up any dirt in this home but that's why we brought along an expert: Microbiologist Dr. Robin Kurtz. Her testing plates can pick up microorganisms, including unwanted bacteria.

"Mannitol salts is a medium we use for staphylococcus," said Dr. Kurtz. "We've all heard of staphylococcus aureus."

It's something that can make you sick. According to WebMD, a recent study found more than one out of four bathtubs test positive for staph. But would Sue's?

We tested that, as well her sink, cutting board, remote control, computer and other places that she may have picked up some unwanted bugs. We'll get to the results later.

On Langdon Street near the University of Wisconsin-Madison, we found a good sport in senior student Eric Ballecer. His place? Probably typical for a college kid but a potential shocker to someone like sue.

Eric says he tries to keep his place clean but with three roommates and a dog that can be tough.

"It's nice just to have a clean place you know and not worry about people coming in obviously and test your place for germs," said Ballecer.

 And that's just what we did. We tested all those places we looked at in Sue's house, including the microwave, his refrigerator and the kitchen sink.

 Ballecer appeared a little nervous.

"I know it's going to be bad," said Ballecer.

But how bad? That was the question. We took it to the lab.

"If Eric dropped a piece of fruit in his sink should he eat it?," asked 27 News.

"No," said Dr. Kurtz.

 In fact, Eric's kitchen sink turned out to be the most contaminated place we tested. Too many bacteria to count and the testing plate that represented Eric's kitchen sink had a real nasty smell and Dr. Kurtz says that is a sure sign of E. coli. But the discovery is not that uncommon. According to researchers, many people's toilets are cleaner than their kitchen sinks. Food left soaking is a breeding ground for E. coli. They say sinks should be cleaned with bleach and so should bathtubs. Eric's tested positive for staphylococcus. So did his salt and pepper shakers.

"Yeah, staph is a very common form of food poisoning," said Dr. Kurtz. "Probably the most common."

And this brings us back to Sue. Her squeaky-clean house almost squeaked by.

"Her cutting board was pretty ugly," said Dr. Kurtz.

Her cutting board tested positive for a variety of bacteria, even mold.

"What does this mean for Sue's cutting board?," asked 27 News.

"It means Sue's cutting board is probably a lot less clean than she thinks it is," said Dr. Kurtz. "This is why you don't cut raw meat then vegetables that you are not going to cook."

It's simple practices like that Dr. Kurtz says will keep people safe from germs.

"We do not want to live in a sterile environment," said Dr. Kurtz. "Just use common sense. Wash your cutting boards well and wash your hands."

And that's her single biggest piece of advice: Wash those things that come with you wherever you go and then it won't matter so much how clean or messy you keep your house.

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