Yesterday I read that Erin Carr-Jordan, a college instructor and mother of four kids, was banned from 8 McDonald’s in Arizona for telling other costumers that she found MRSA (Methycillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) in the restaurant’s play area. She said she also found pathogens found in fecal material and mucus.
The restaurant’s representative said Carr-Jordan was banned because her actions were disruptive to the employees and costumers.
I have no opinion on McDonald’s decision to ban Dr. Carr-Jordan (she has a PhD in developmental psychology). I understand Carr-Jordan’s concern about the cleanliness of the places where her children play. I have been inside those play areas… they are not clean. I have seen food thrown around, ketchup stains, and the occasional vomit. I don’t doubt she found bacteria present in feces and mucus. Kids being kids, it is likely they are sticking their hands up their noses and smearing them all over the place. (I don’t agree with USAToday’s use of the word pathogen. Not all bacteria are pathogens, and these are not interchangeable terms.)
I also know that those play places are incredibly difficult to clean. The tunnels are narrow, and I don’t think it’ll be easy for an adult (or even a lanky 16-year-old) to get in there and properly sanitize them.
I also think it very likely that Carr-Jordan found S. aureus in the play places. S. aureus is pretty common, and it’s part of the skin’s bacterial flora (You might be familiar with it, it causes folliculitis and some cases of acne) and is transmitted by direct contact. I think it is likely that Carr-Jordan found MRSA, since about 1% of the population carry this strain (and in the greater Phoenix area someone is bound to have it). I also believe this is not exclusive to McDonald’s play areas.
I think Carr-Jordan is up to something, and there’s a great opportunity to get people talking about public health and shared responsibilities (Teaching your kids to wash their hands and not to lick everything is important, as is teaching them to pick up after themselves). Right now, though, some members of the public might see her as an alarmist. The fact that she just told a bunch of costumers about the bacteria didn’t help her case at all, if you ask me.
I advice her (although I doubt she’ll read this obscure little blog) to make public the lab tests that confirm the presence of MRSA, and any other pathogenic bacteria. Perhaps repeat the swabbings, and swab play areas in other restaurants. Then, get people talking. Bacteria are everywhere, and you can’t eliminate them completely, but you can learn how to lessen your risk of catching an infection.
I hope this leads to better hygiene standards in fast-food restaurants. I have been in McDonald’s in 3 countries and the restrooms were uniformly disgusting.
Oh, and if you want to know more abot MRSA, read the awesomely scary Superbug blog.