ASSIGNMENT 13: Dirty Purses

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Ever think about the bacteria growing on your purse? WEAU's Courtney Everett takes you inside the lab of what was found on random women in the community.

(WEAU) – As you’re reading this, take a moment and think when was the last time you washed your hands? A study done by Michigan State University found that only 5% of people who used the bathroom wash their hands long enough to kill bacteria.

Now women, think about how you carry a purse around with you every day. Yet with all those unwashed hands, what's lurking underneath it?

"I wear it across my body, I bring it to sporting events. I throw it in the grocery cart,” says Brook Berg.

Angie Willier says, "I try to hang it up in a bathroom stall."

"I put my purse on the floor of my car,” says Kerry Kincaid.

The purse can referred to as a lifeline for women. But did you know your purse picks up bacteria wherever you set it down?

"Whenever you touch something you transfer bacteria from one place to another,” says Sasha Showsh, UW-Eau Claire Microbiologist.

But how much bacteria is growing on a women's best friend? Well I wanted to find out! So I grabbed lab equipment from UW-Eau Claire and asked four local women if I could swab the bottom of their purses to identify what they're carrying around.

After I swabbed each purse, I put my sample into a petri dish. I swabbed every purse four times, because I had four different petri dishes. Each one tested for different bacteria, one being fecal matter.

Since I had some extra equipment, I tested things we touch every day. I swabbed an office phone, TV remote, indoor bathroom handle and car door handle to see if purses are dirtier or cleaner. Then, the samples went back to UW-Eau Claire and into the incubator for 3 days to grow.

"We selected for bacteria that grow at 37 degrees Celsius which is your body temperature," says Showsh.

Dr. Sasha Showsh, a microbiologist with UW-Eau Claire then shared what our eyes can't see. First purse to step up to the plate was Kerry Kincaid, the Eau Claire City Council President and a dog owner.
The results revealed bacillus, which is commonly found in dry places like soil.

"You said one of your tests was for fecal matter and I was sure that just because I have my purse in my car a lot and your picking up your dog's mess and maybe you don't wash your hands as good as you should and there be fecal matter at the bottom of my purse,” says Kincaid.

Showsh says, "Most of the bacteria are good for you, they protect you from getting sick. They provide vitamins and so forth."

The next purse belongs to Angie Willier who is a mother and a local florist. The damage was bacillus and two small contaminants of fecal matter.

Courtney Everett asks, “Do you ever think about all the bacteria that are growing on your purse even as we speak? Angie says, "Never thought of it before, but now I'm really concerned about it."

Next is Mary Ann Hardebeck, Eau Claire Area School District superintendent. Her purse results showed a small amount of staphylococcus commonly found in food poisoning.

"It certainly did make me think, because when you took the sample. I wondered what will come back,’” says Hardebeck.

"The fact that you have a purse that's an inanimate object that doesn't provide the nutrients for bacterial growth. So there are just transient. That's essentially what you do is you move them around by moving your purse,” explains Showsh.

Then we have Brook Berg who is UW-Extension's Family Living Educator and a mother of four. Her purse revealed fecal matter, staphylococcus and 20 different other types of bacteria.

"I carry my kids and my purse at the same time and I put my purse on the countertop,” says Brook.

Then there's me, a Sunrise Anchor/Reporter & golfer. The results on my bag showed mold, fecal contaminants, staphylococcus, which I'd call #disgusting.

Here's a breakdown of the bacteria found on the common objects found in a home. The cleanest was the car door handle and the dirtiest was the remote control.

"You can see that with the remote control these surfaces have probably never been cleaned. I don't where this remote control is from,” says Sasha.

Yeah little does he know that came from our newsroom. So what can we do to avoid this bacteria?

"I'll be more aware of where I'm setting it and what I'm doing with my purse,” explains Brook.

Angie says, "I think I'm going to pick up some baby wipes and wipe it off more normally."

If you're not grossed out already, the results of my hand test revealed a lot of bacteria before I washed my hands compared to after. So what's the lesson?

"Wash your hands,” says Showsh.

Kincaid says, "I wash my hands. I don't want to give up my purse."


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