February 4, 2023

They can be fast and simple to use.

But self-service check-outs — now a staple of modern supermarkets and convivence stores — are littered in bacteria found in human faeces.

This is according to public health officials, who took some of the devices apart to check their cleanliness.

The machines are used daily by thousands of people and can be infected with bugs that can make them sick.

Scientists collected 19 items from everyday life, including self service checkouts, escalator handrails, and office keyboards.

This could be due to not washing our hands after we eat, or if our fingers touch our noses, mouths, and eyes with dirt. 

Experts now advise shoppers to thoroughly wash their hands after they use the checkouts or any other items that they purchase in the lead up to Christmas. 

A study backed by NHS public healthcare officials revealed 19 items that people are regularly in daily contact with.

These included self-service supermarket checkouts, escalator tracks, public toilet door handles and computer keyboards.

Laboratory analysis revealed that self-service checkouts had one of the highest levels of bacteria, with five types known to cause diseases in humans.

One of them was Enterococcus, which is a common bacteria found in feces.

A sample taken from self-service checkout (pictured), was positive for a type bacteria found in human urine

Another person who was rescued from the escalator handrail (pictured) brought back Candida albicans bacteria, which is common in the vagina. This bacteria can lead to yeast infections.

E.coli can cause stomach bugs, and another bacteria that can cause painful UTIs was found on keyboards (pictured).

Scientists said E.Coli, which can cause stomach cramps and diarrhoea was found on almost every item analysed (pictured the results from a swab from a toilet door)


Hand washing is one of the best ways to protect yourself from food poisoning, flu and other illnesses.

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Wash your hands often

  • After using the bathroom or changing your nappy,
  • Before and after handling raw foods
  • Before handling or eating food
  • After blowing your nose, sneezing, or coughing
  • Before and after treatment of wounds
  • After touching animals (including pets), their food or cages,

Wash your hands twice as long as it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice (around 20 seconds). 

  1. Get your hands wet with water.
  2. Make sure to use enough soap to thoroughly clean your hands.
  3. Get your hands together.
  4. Rub one hand on the back of your other hand, and clean in between your fingers. Repeat this process with the other side.
  5. Use your fingertips to rub your hands together. 
  6. Use your fingertips to rub your palms against the back of your hands. 
  7. Use your other hand to rub your thumb. Repeat with the other thumb. 
  8. Place the tips of your fingers onto the palm of the other hand. Repeat the process with the other hand.
  9. Rinse hands with warm water.
  10. Use a disposable towel to dry your hands.
  11. Turn off the tap using the disposable towel

If you don’t have soap or water, then use an alcohol-based hand cleaner if it is available. 


E.coli was also found on almost all items analysed. It is possible for some strains to cause stomach cramps, diarrhoea or bloody stool in humans. 

Although it is not always fatal, patients may need hospitalization.

A bacteria commonly found in the vagina and mouth called Candida albicans, which can cause yeast infections, was found on an escalator handrail.

Bacteria that can cause painful UTI — called Klebsiella — were found on living on computer keyboards.  

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Dr Adam Roberts, an expert in microbiology from Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine who analysed the swab results, said the findings demonstrated just how easily people can encounter potentially dangerous bacteria.   

‘We live in a bacterial world – bacteria and microbes are everywhere, and we come into contact with them all day, every day,’ he said. 

‘It’s vital to try to minimise their effects in terms of infection prevention and control, so when we touch our mouths or go to the toilet and don’t wash our hands, we’ve likely got bacteria from these places on our hands which can then transfer to other things – and subsequently to other people.’

He It should be noted that, while this may only cause mild illness for most people over Christmas, it can have serious consequences for those who are more vulnerable, such as children, the elderly and people undergoing treatment for cancer.  

He said, “If these individuals are more vulnerable to infection than you, then there might be a problem.” 

Dr Roberts stated that office workers should be aware of the bugs lurking within their keyboards and self-service checkouts.   

He stated that he had found multiple instances of E.coli on keyboards and a bacteria named Klebsiella.

“Both exist naturally in the faeces as well as the intestines. However, if given the right environment they can cause severe diseases in humans.

‘So it’s vital that we wash our hands before and after eating when working at the computer.’ 

The experiment was initiated by the Champs Public Health Collaborative a public health partnership between nine Directors of Public Health across Cheshire and Merseyside.

It is part of hygiene campaign called Simple Things, which calls on people to adopt four basic behaviours to help minimize the spread of bugs this winter.

Dr Adam Roberts, a microbiologist who examined the results of the swabs, said that the findings showed the importance of hand hygiene 

They are required to wash their hands frequently. Clean surfaces. Keep away from those who feel unwell. Cover their mouths when they cough or sneeze.

Matt Ashton, Liverpool’s director of public-health, has asked people who have loved ones with special needs to take extra care when coming in contact. 

He stated that he found multiple bacteria on the objects he touched every day.

‘These bacteria are completely invisible to the naked eye – surfaces may look clean but can be covered in bacteria.

“But, there are simple things that we can do to stop their spread and stop them from completing their cycle. 

This is especially important for those who visit vulnerable relatives at hospitals or care homes.

The influenza levels in the NHS’s first week with winter data are already 10x higher than the same period last year and twice as high last winter’s peak data.

Mr Ashton highlighted how illnesses like the vomiting bug norovirus and the flu always spike in winter and urged people to wash their hands after going to the bathroom as well as before and after they eat. 

The campaign comes amid concerns the NHS is facing a tripledemic of flu, Covid and seasonal bugs this winter.

Figures from the NHS’s initial week of winter data reveal that influenza levels are already twice as high in hospitals than last winter’s peak.

The experiment comes just weeks after a major report revealed bacterial infections kill nearly 8million people each year amid warning superbugs, which antibiotics struggle to beat, are on the rise.