I watched Marketplace’s assessment of hotel room cleanliness broadcasted on Friday. I was quite interested in this episode as I am immune-compromised and I stay at hotels periodically. This piece traded on scare mongering instead of providing good information for the consumer. The Marketplace piece completely lacked perspective and credibility.

The crew set up hidden cameras in the hotel rooms to determine how the housekeeping staff performs their duties. We saw one cleaner clean the toilet and then wipe the bathroom counter. Now, this is gross. No one really wants to know that there could be toilet germs on the counter where they are putting their toothbrush. We also saw another cleaner use hand soap to clean the drinking glasses. I am always suspect of hotel glasses and quite often I will rinse them out again to make sure they are clean. None of this is new; we have known for a long time that hotel room glasses are not always clean.

A black light was used throughout the rooms, ostensibly to demonstrate colonies of bacteria and bodily fluids. What they do not tell us that any substance that has fluorescence will be lit up by a black light. In one hotel room the black light finds that a liquid substance has been dribbled down a wall. The scientist states it could be a beverage but eventually states it could be urine. The use of the black light was just another way to get sensationalist coverage.

The worst part of this expose was the use of a device that counted numbers of germs/bacteria on surfaces. We are told that anything under 300 is a pass, between 300-900 is a caution and over 1,000 is a fail. They go around the rooms taking swabs of high contact surfaces. Of course most of the swabs fail. Some of the largest readings occur in the bathroom of a high end hotel with readings in excel of 60,000. But they never really tell us what this all means. We are being led to the conclusion that these numbers indicate large proliferations of bacteria.

A lack of context makes these results unreliable. I can remember other studies of germs that showed there are more germs on your average office worker’s desk than on a toilet seat. It would have been more useful if they had tested some home environments to see what was lurking on those toilet seats. I suspect our homes have way more bacteria than your average hotel room.

There was also some straight up misinformation in this piece. The scientist said that someone could pick up a sexually transmitted disease from the toilet seat. Correct me if I am wrong but if the name of the disease states how it is transmitted how can you get it from a toilet seat? Public health professionals have been very clear that you cannot get a sexually transmitted disease from a toilet seat.

Finally, they gathered some bacterial samplings from the room. These samples were then taken back to the lab and cultured. Not surprisingly, they found MRSA and C. Difficile. We have known for a long time that these 2 bacteria have been showing up outside of hospitals for a very long time. Finding them in hotel rooms should not surprise anyone.

Our society has become far too focused on germs and eradicating them. We use antibacterial soaps trying to kill any microorganisms lest they get into our bodies. What we are missing is the understanding that living in a sterile world is bad for us. The rise of autoimmune diseases is showing us the error of our ways.[1] As an immune compromised person the only thing I took away from this episode was to not put my toothbrush down on a bathroom counter in a hotel. Living in fear that there could be bacteria on a toilet seat or something spilled down the wall of my hotel room does not concern me at all.

Marketplace really disappointed me this week. I have come to expect high quality journalism from the CBC not fear mongering.

[1] Check out the hygiene hypothesis.

One thought on “CBC’s Marketplace lacks perspective

  1. Missed the program, but still enjoyed reading your comments.

    You would think that with the proliferation of cautions and the gazillion gallons of anitbacterial hand-soap sold these days, we should all be living a germ free existence!

    Hotel rooms and germs? Good grief, we have two dogs who just never remember to rinse their mouths before lavishing kisses, hands that touch dirty money, and a home full of dust and debris. A hotel room always looks cleaner than my house, and that is what I appreciate. 😉

    ( I will remember to rinse the glasses from now on though – thanks for the tip!)

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