TEXAS: E. coli found on Abilene menus
Posted: May 8th, 2009 - 10:36am
Not only did high school senior Michelle Bridgestock earn national recognition with her study of bacteria on menus in Abilene restaurants, but it might shock you into changing your habits when eating out.
Bridgestock needed a medical research project for her independent study course at Holland Medical High School in Abilene when she started contemplating how much bacteria festers on the menus we all handle right before we eat.
So in December, the aspiring doctor started eating out -- a lot. In her purse, she stashed rubber gloves and sterile cotton swabs provided to her by Hendrick Medical Center, which partners with Holland.
After the waitress dropped off the menus, she'd snap on her gloves, swab the menu surface and slip the swab stick into a preservative tube without being seen. The next day, she'd tote them into the microbiology lab at Hendrick. Her mentor, microbiologist Pam Hale, helped her transfer the swab samples into petri dishes and put them in an incubator so the bacteria could grow overnight.
The next day Bridgestock would examine the sprouting cultures in a microscope and scour her textbooks to find pictures that matched.
She repeated the process for 12 local restaurants, and she admits the results "kinda grossed me out."
Every menu but one revealed traces of bacteria. Most of it comes from dirt, she said, but there is a slight possibility it could have come from contact with microbial fecal material that someone had on their hands.
But the results from two Abilene restaurants, which she wouldn't reveal, shocked her most.
One restaurant's menu revealed traces of E. coli. Another had staph bacteria.
Both can cause serious infections. E. coli, when trapped in the upper gastrointestinal track, can cause vomiting, diarrhea and bloody stool.
"You would never guess which restaurants were bad," she said, refusing to tell any of the names. That's part of the ethics report she had to write as part of her HOSA (Health Occupations Students of America) contest entry. Since the restaurants didn't know she was taking the swabs, she'll keep them a secret.
But she admits it hasn't been easy.