Mom finds bacteria, fecal matter in restaurant play areas

Published: Jul. 28, 2011 at 1:10 AM MST|Updated: Feb. 28, 2018 at 5:29 PM MST
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TUCSON, AZ (KOLD) - An Arizona mom is shocked at what she's discovered lurking on playgrounds at several fast food restaurants.

"It's just very, very gross," Erin Carr Jordan said. "I've seen old food that's rotting, I've seen bandages and roaches."

The Chandler mother of four first noticed questionable conditions at a McDonald's restaurant in Tempe. She took her child into the play area, and noticed old food and hair stuck to the play equipment.

She notified managers, and also collected samples from the surfaces for lab testing. The results turned up a list of 13 disease-causing bacteria.

Experts, including Dr. Charles Gerba, UA microbiologist, say the testing results indicate fecal contamination and possible presence of drug-resistant MRSA.

"The main concern (with these strains) is largely diarrhea, colds, flus, and skin infections," Dr. Gerba said.

As disturbing as that may sound, Gerba said the concentration levels of the bacteria found at the restaurant are fairly typical for a kids' playground.

"You're dealing with a young population that has a higher frequency of colds and diarrhea," he said. "So, they're more likely to contaminate surfaces than any other age group."

A McDonald's regional spokesperson offered this response:

"When the Owner Operator of the restaurant was informed of the customer issue, he contacted the customer directly by phone and the PlayPlace was cleaned. PlayPlace sanitation and cleanliness is a top priority for McDonald's. Families place a high-level of trust in our restaurants and that's a responsibility we take extremely seriously. Rest assured we have stringent daily and weekly sanitation procedures in place."

Jordan also has been testing about a dozen other play areas at different restaurant chains, in several states. She found similar strains of bacteria at other locations, but often at much higher concentration levels - levels that even Gerba could hardly believe.

"When you see these higher concentration levels (in the thousands and millions), it means the surfaces are not being cleaned," he said. "And they're not as sanitary as they should be."

Currently, there are no state or federal regulations in place to enforce sanitation standards in the play areas of restaurants. Companies create their own cleaning protocols. But public health inspectors are not required to check up on them.

"Issues have been brought up in the past," said Jeff Terrell, with the Pima County Public Health Department. "But I'm not sure why there's never been any regulations developed."

He says the agency's hands are tied until Arizona lawmakers create new rules.

"From our end of it, it would have to start at the state level," he explained. "The Legislature would have to pass something, and then it would be delegated down to us."

Jordan is now trying to draft a bill to get that ball rolling.

You can learn more about Erin Carr Jordan's efforts, including results of her ongoing sample testing at other restaurants at:!/pages/Kids-Play-Safe/198950143481029

When asked for its company policy on cleaning the children's play area, McDonald's responded with this:

  • PlayPlace components should be cleaned daily to ensure that the PlayPlace is free from debris or spills that could pose a hazard
  • Spot clean soiled surfaces with an All-Purpose Super Concentrate solution
  • Use dedicated towels for cleaning trash receptacles
  • Pay special attention to handrails, stair treads, the slide entrance and exit, the inside of domes, entry portholes, and other areas that are touched frequently and become soiled quickly
  • Keep the PlayPlace area free of any debris
  • Spot clean the entrance and exit doors, and the windows
  • All equipment and surfaces should be spot cleaned throughout the day and cleaned thoroughly each day
  • Surfaces should be inspected frequently during each shift to check for food spills, trash, and overall cleanliness

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