Aug. 15, 2011 — -- The play area at your local fast food restaurant may be harboring germs and bacteria that could make your children sick.
"Good Morning America" found out about this issue from a crusading mother who is trying to get standards in place for how – and how often – restaurant play areas should be cleaned.
At present, the government regulates restaurants and child care facilities, but not child play areas in restaurants.
Clumps of hair, rotting food and gang graffiti were just some of the things that mother Erin Carr-Jordan says she found when she followed her toddler into a fast-food restaurant play tube.
"It was like getting hit with a brick, it was so disgusting," she told "GMA." "There was filth everywhere, there was black on the walls and it was sticky and there was grime inside the connecting tubes."
A professional with a specialty in child development and four children of her own, Carr-Jordan couldn't get the filthy scene out of her mind, so she crawled into more play tubes. And when she felt restaurant managers weren't responsive to her complaints, she started taking her video camera with her, and then posting what she found.
"There is filth embedded. There's a layer of thick grime," she says in one of her YouTube postings. "Everywhere the children touch. There's just layers and layers and layers of dirt and grime and old food - everywhere you look. The walls are just covered in black filth. In the cracks there's filth. It's appalling."
Carr-Jordan knew the play areas looked awful, but she wanted proof they could make children sick. So she spent several thousand dollars of her own money on testing.
She collected samples at nine restaurants in seven states, from McDonald's, Burger King, Chuck E. Cheese's and others. She shipped off her swabs to a certified lab.
"We're not just talking about a little bit of dirt and germs - kids are supposed to get dirty, they're supposed to have fun, that's not what we're talking about here," she said of the findings.
Fecal Matter Found in Play Areas
The lab found fecal matter – human waste – in eight out of the nine play areas Carr-Jordan tested – nearly 90 percent. Children who come into contact with those bacteria could then get sick if they touched their mouth, nose or an open wound. One restaurant play tube had more than 20 million fecal bacteria in a two-inch area.
"Where there are people, there are germs," said New York University microbiologist Dr. Philip Tierno.
"GMA" asked Tierno, director of microbiology and immunology at New York University Langone Medical Center, to put Carr-Jordan's lab result into context. He said the play areas could have been worse, but there's definitely room for improvement.
"The areas where children play in those restaurants, they should be periodically sanitized - I don't know if some of these were sanitized in a more timely fashion to have 20 million count-- but they really should be," he said.
That is precisely Carr-Jordan's point. After all, restaurant bathrooms are required by law to be cleaned regularly, but there are no clear standards for restaurant play areas.
"I don't want them to take these places away, I most certainly do not. I just want them to clean them," she said.
"GMA" asked the restaurant chains for their reaction:
Click HERE to read Burger King's response.
Click HERE to read McDonald's response.
Click HERE to read Chuck E. Cheese's response.
Many parents like those play areas to get their children out of the heat in the summer and the cold in the winter. So how can they protect their children?
Dr. Tierno pointed out that even if restaurants have great cleaning protocols, as soon as another child touches the play area, he or she deposits germs for other children to pick up. Parents need to train their children to wash their hands thoroughly after playing on any playground and before they eat.