The Disgusting Side Of Customer Engagement Technology: Bacteria-Riddled Touchscreens

November 29, 2018 by Dave Haynes

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.

Yuck …

Airplanes and airports are also disgusting … As is, as some commenters noted, pretty much everything we encounter in the public each day.

  1. Chris Bradley says:

    How does the amount of filth on the screen compare to that on the door to the establishment? The handrail you ran your hand on at the stairs?The counter, the table, the bathroom door and hands of the person who prepares the food?
    Just sayin.

  2. Jeff Grandell says:

    Unfortunately the only thing new here is the added surface being touched. The same hands touching the screens have been touching the doors handles on the way in, the straw dispensers, counters, tables, etc. These are the same tests and results from reports going back years regarding vending machines, copiers in offices, hand rails on stairs or escalators , and buttons on elevators. So the only thing new is we get to apply it to our industry now.

  3. Tom Lamb says:

    for those of us who ride the subways in NYC, its simply a continuation of the day.

    Sounds like a co-marketing opportunity for Purell.

    Thanks for the continued insights.

  4. Dave, the future of interactive screens is GESTURE…….available now from Esprit Digital!

  5. Div Jangid says:

    I think Peter is right, The future of interactive screens is Gesture.

  6. All these things are acceptable but not when we compare it with other restaurants stuff like what about the bacterial paper menu? and how much can you keep the tables clean?
    All the mentioned bacterias are available on every other thing even on the screens of mobile which we use every twice a second.

  7. But gestures are going to need haptic feedback to make them really usable. Lag-free sense of agency is important to the design of interfaces to make them a pleasure, not a frustration to use. But then, I’m biased! (

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