When interactive touchscreens first came on the market, and everyone started blabbering away about engagement technology and customer engagement, there were more than a few germaphobes who pointed out that, ummm, public touchscreens ran the risk of having disgusting surfaces.
Think of anything that gets touched and touched and touched all day long, by people of all stripes who just had their fingers somewhere else. I will leave it at that.
Over the years that have followed, touchscreens are now so much a part of our lives that I think many people have forgotten how “icky” the surfaces can be. We just use them.
Consider news out of the UK – where tests were done to determine the hygiene levels of self-service ordering screens in a set of McDonald’s locations. Turns out the screens are as bad as the germaphobes expected – with fecal material traces (aka poop) showing up on every screen tested.
That testing was done by the free newspaper Metro, in collaboration with the human sciences department at London Metropolitan University. The study involved swabs taken from eight McDonald’s restaurants – six in London and two in Birmingham.
Among the nasty stuff found on screens: Coliforms, Staphylococcus aureus pseudomonas, Listeria, Enterococcus faecalis, Proteus and Bacillus.
Says Dr. Paul Matewele, a senior lecturer in microbiology at London Metropolitan University, in an interview with Metro: “We were all surprised how much gut and fecal bacteria there was on the touchscreen machines. These cause the kind of infections that people pick up in hospitals. For instance Enterococcus faecalis is part of the flora of gastrointestinal tracts of healthy humans and other mammals. It is notorious in hospitals for causing hospital acquired infections.”
There are companies like Pristine Screen that have digital signage screen cleaning programs, but I don’t know how effective they’d be in a busy environment like a QSR. I do know that company has a coating that is touted as anti-bacterial and effective for as long as a year.
I kinda feel bad for McDonald’s – because I suspect the same thing would be replicated at countless QSR chains and certainly on things like subway ticketing screens, and so on. The chain said the screens are cleaned numerous times a day, and certainly there’s soap in the restrooms. A screen could get cleaned, and then 2 minutes later someone who didn’t wash his or her hands in the restroom is up there poking away at the screen.
The obvious remedies are hand sanitizer, navigating screens with your elbows, or ordering at the counter.
Airplanes and airports are also disgusting … As is, as some commenters noted, pretty much everything we encounter in the public each day.
Dave Haynes is the founder and editor of Sixteen:Nine, an online publication that has followed the digital signage industry for some 14 years. Dave does strategic advisory consulting work for many end-users and vendors, and also writes for many of them. He’s based near Halifax, Nova Scotia, on Canada’s east coast.