AMHERST, MA (WGGB/WSHM) - With winter in full force, have you ever wondered how dirty some of the items you use or touch?

Well, there are dozens of dirty little secrets out there that you may not know about.

Items we use every, single day or carry around with us could be carrying and spreading bacteria unintentionally.

Western Mass News met up with Erika Hamilton, a microbiologist at UMass-Amherst who helped us figure out what might be living on some of the items we touch or use every day.

First up, this gas pump.

“What I'm going to do is use a sterile Q-tip basically or a sterile swab and I'm going to pick the bacteria up off of the handle with it, and then I'm going to smear it over the surface of this and if there are any bacterial cells on the handle, they'll be put onto the outer surface and they will grow," Dr. Hamilton tells us.

Considering how many hands have touched this pump, we were curious to see how much bacteria might pop up.

Next, we moved on to testing the bottom of a purse.

We often place our bags or backpacks on the floor or ground and sometimes put them on clean surfaces.

Are we unintentionally spreading germs?

[Reporter: "I put it on the ground a lot, the floor of a car, here at work, and then I go home and put it on my chair or put it on my counter.]

"So we'll swab the bottom of the bag and we'll see what grows. It's very hard to not put your bag on something that's going to get it a little bit on the dirty side. It's just next to impossible," stated Dr. Hamilton.

Lastly, we tested a water bottle, something almost all of use every, single day.


"I'm just thinking of how damp that is.

"Yes, and you have over 400 different species of bacteria living in your mouth, so any time you go to take a drink, you're introducing some of those into the mouthpiece of the water bottle," explained Dr. Hamilton.

After swabbing our surfaces and products, the petri dishes were then stored at UMass-Amherst in a warm incubator to allow the bacteria to grow.

In a few short days, we were on our way to see the results and some of our findings were alarming!

As you take a look at these dishes, you may notice there are little circles that formed.

Well, those circles are colonies and they tell a big story.

“For the human eye to be able to see a colony, there needs to be at least a million cells present, so in each colony that you see on here, there are several million bacterial cells present," said Dr. Hamilton.

Hamilton tells Western Mass News it's common to see this type of bacteria on the bottom of purses or backpacks, so the purse was not too bad.

[Reporter: "This doesn't look too, too bad to me. So this is the purse. That one doesn't look, I guess, as alarming as..."]

"As the others?" asked Dr. Hamilton.

[Reporter: "Yeah. The other ones." ]

"So the gas pump actually had more growth on it than I thought. I thought that the cold was going to really inhibit things. These all represent different bacterial cells. There is most likely over a hundred colonies on here and again, we didn't swab a very big portion of that handle that was for the gas pump, so a lot of organisms were on here," continued Dr. Hamilton.

But don’t be alarmed.

Hamilton adds that as long as you're a healthy person, you won't be getting sick from the gas pump bacteria.

Now we saved the best for last, or the most disgusting.

Take a look at the results from the water bottle.

"Your water bottle remains damp, so you go to take a drink out of it and then you close it. The bacteria from your mouth moves from your mouth and then onto either the threads of the water bottle or in this case, they moved into the straw and then the water bottle was closed up, and it remained damp," said Dr. Hamilton.

The bacteria from the water bottle is tough to look at, especially knowing you’re drinking out of this, but the dirty little secret is a water bottle is the perfect place for bacteria to grow.

"And like everything else, bacteria, you need water to live and grow, and so they're going to be warm, because your water bottle is with you, you carry it with you, so is it room temperature? They like that. Probably a little bit of food in there, because when you drink out of it, some of the dead cells from your mouth and maybe even some of the food you've eaten do backwash into the water bottle no matter how careful you are," stated Dr. Hamilton.

Hamilton says germs and bacteria are everywhere.

You can't avoid them, but you can try to remove them.

"In general, bacteria are beneficial to us. They're not hurtful. It's just that, in some cases, we want to make sure that the harmful ones don't get on us or in us," added Dr. Hamilton.

Copyright 2020 Western Mass News (Meredith Corporation).  All rights reserved.

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