TODAY   |  May 30, 2013

Study: Handbags carry more bacteria than some toilets

Germophobes beware: A recent U.K. study claims some purses and handbags are loaded with more bacteria than the average toilet. TODAY puts those findings to the test, taking samples from handbags for microbiologist Nathan Lents of John Jay College to analyze.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> beware all of you germaphobes out there. the handbags that many of us carry and wallets, as well may be teeming with germs. totes, satchels, clutches, must-haves for women, but they can also be magnets for bacteria. a study by the uk-based company initial washroom hygiene found that 1 in 5 handbag handles were home to high levels of harmful bacteria. but it's not just handles. researchers found that items inside the bag, particularly hand cream bottles can harbor more bacteria than the average toilet seat .

>> lots of our own hands go in and out of that often. and even from day-to-day, you're going to have bacteria on your hands.

>> that intrigued us. so we went to the macrobiologist for some answers. here in our control room, he got to work on our own producers' handbags. he took samples from handles, bottoms and the inside of several bags. and for comparison sake, he collected samples from the telephone receiver, bathroom door handle .

>> without knowing how often these are cleaned, my guess is that the inside of the bag will be the dirtiest in terms of bacteria.

>> the samples go to a lab where they are cultured and analyzed. find out what germs may be hiding in our handbag.

>> it's been two weeks since we collected the samples. we've got the results. good morning to you.

>> good morning.

>> well, let us have it. did you find some germs?

>> we did. we found lots of bacteria in the bags, outside the bags, but nothing altogether unexpected, certainly nothing harmful or pathogenic.

>> what kind of bacteria did you find?

>> kind of the -- staphyloccocus.

>> some can cause hospital borne infections and other infections with people with immune deficiency . but we didn't find any strains in the bags.

>> why is it a great breeding ground for this?

>> well, as you can see, you can zip it shut and it's a closed environment where it's very dark, holds on to the moisture, it's humid, damp and it can have crumbs and dust and things and bacteria.

>> are there crumbs in it?

>> not immune?

>> not immune, but less of a problem because you don't tend to put food in your wallet at much.

>> i have popcorn in my wallet.

>> the trail you leave behind in the morning.

>> what do you think about this study that says some handbag handles in particular are dirtier than public toilet seats.

>> i would be a little skeptical for a couple of reasons. number one, the kind of bacteria on the bag tends not to be the harmful variety anyway. and number two, the -- it's really the diversity of bacteria that they were talking about. there's more kinds of bacteria on a handbag. a toilet in a public restroom are going to be filled with potentially harmful bacteria.

>> simple ways to alleviate this. just warm wipes, what?

>> what we found was the inside of the bag was the worst place for the bacteria. so a couple of things you can do to inhibit this is just to keep it open as much as possible. let it air out so the moisture doesn't stay inside. and every once in a while , once a week, take a bag and take everything out of it. get rid of the dust and the crumbs, take a paper towel , wet it, you can use antibacterial wipes if you want. and just wipe it out with a wet paper towel . what you're looking to get out is the dust and the crumbs. it's a losing battle to fight the bacteria, but if you get out what they eat, they can't set up camp.

>> name names.

>> i was sworn to secrecy on that.

>> we didn't let him test our bags.

>> our executive producer john nash 's handbag?

>> i can't confirm or deny.

>> thanks, nathan. appreciate it.