Study: Airport security trays have more germs than toilets

Airports have hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of guests streaming through every single year. Though it may not come as a total surprise, new research shows that those airport security trays that all travelers must use have more germs than the surface of airport toilets. Pretty gross, right?

Researchers from the University of Nottingham in England and the Finnish National Institute for Health and Welfare conducted a study to investigate “the presence of respiratory viruses in the passenger environment of a major airport in order to identify risk points and guide measures to minimize transmission.”

To investigate, researchers took samples from the air and frequently-touched surfaces weekly at three different times at the Helsinki-Vantaa airport in Finland during the peak of influenza season from 2015 to 2016. Helsinki-Vantaa is the main airport in the country and had nearly 19 million customers pass through its doors in 2017.

The study, which was published in BMC Infectious Diseases, also noted that other surfaces in the airport also showed at least one respiratory virus. Surfaces tested included toilet seats, toilet buttons, luggage trolleys, escalator handrails, stair handrails, and many others. While several surfaces tested positive to respiratory viruses, researchers found that trays at security checkpoints — yes, the same one you can’t get around touching! — were the worst. Half the trays possessed germs, including influenza A and rhinovirus, which can cause colds.

“We found the highest frequency of respiratory viruses on plastic trays used in security check areas for depositing hand-carried luggage and personal items,” stated the scientists. “These boxes typically cycle with high frequency to subsequent passengers, and are typically seized with a wide palm surface area and strong grip.”

The obvious solution to diminishing the effects of germs at security checkpoints? Sanitation, obviously! Why is it that hand sanitizer isn’t immediately available at these checkpoints, and moreover, throughout the airport?

“Security trays are highly likely to be handled by all embarking passengers at airports; nevertheless the risk of this procedure could be reduced by offering hand sanitization with alcohol handrub before and after security screening, and increasing the frequency of tray disinfection,” wrote the scientists. “To our knowledge, security trays are not routinely disinfected.”

The best advice for steering clear of sickness in the airport? Use antibacterial soap and warm water to wash hands for at least 20 seconds, especially after coming into contact with frequently-touched surfaces. It’s also advised to use hand sanitizer, so keep a bottle on you to use while you’re in the airport.