SALT LAKE CITY — Questionable crumbs, mysterious stains — if you’re a parent you’ve probably found that and more on your child’s car seat. A test of more than a dozen child safety seats found a host of unwelcome passengers along for the ride.
“It’s red and it came with stickers,” said 5-year-old Hallie, showing off her big-kid booster seat.
“I’ve been sitting in it ever since I was little and I love it,” said 10-year-old Victoria Samora about her car seat.
Hallie and Victoria, like many kids, love their car seats. It keeps them safe during a drive, and it’s the one spot in the car they can call their own. But as with all things owned by children, safety seats get messy.
“Sometimes I bring drinks in them,” said Hallie.
M&M's and carrots are what 3-year-old Isabella likes to eat while in her car seats.
"I drool,” admitted 6-year-old Tino, "and I sometimes sweat when it’s really hot.”
Sweat, food, drool and drinks: all special surprises left for parents to find.
There was E. coli on some of the plates, and there was staph on one of the plates.
–Dan O'Brien, lab technician
“We’ve found gum and crayons and all kinds of food. Whatever we’ve let them eat in the car,” said Jennifer, a Millcreek mother of three who did not want to use her last name.
Food, drinks and candies are what Sonia DeLeon, the mother of a 2-year-old boy, found in her vehicle.
“If we give him chips, we’ll find chips,” said Bianca Sanchez about her 1-year-old. She says she finds all kinds of stains in the car seat.
Jennifer, Sanchez and DeLeon do their best to keep their kids’ car seats clean. They wipe them down and wash the covers at least once a month, but that doesn’t stop their kids from making a mess.
Just how dirty are children’s car seats? To find out, 20 car seats were swabbed with sterile sponges to pick up any germs that could be hiding out. Then Richards Laboratories of Utah, in Pleasant Grove, took the samples and cultured them in an incubator.
“These are all bacteria growing,” said lab technician Dan O’Brien, holding up a clear dish — known as a plate — filled with colorful spores of germs.
Of the 20 seats sampled, all tested positive for coliform bacteria — a common bacteria found in the environment. Technicians then took the tests a step further to identify any dangerous pathogens.
“There was E. coli on some of the plates, and there was staph on one of the plates,” said O’Brien.
Two seats tested positive for E. coli. One seat tested positive for staph; though further testing proved it was not MRSA — a bacterium that's become resistant to the antibiotics commonly used to treat ordinary staph infections. Both types of bacteria could compromise the immune system of a child.
“Anytime you find E. coli, you definitely want to get that cleaned off," said O’Brien, “
He says it’s important for parents to be diligent about cleaning their kids’ car seats, but reminds them germs are part of being a kid.
“You have to be exposed to that kind of thing,” he said, “so that when you become an adult you have a much stronger immune system.”
Until then, kids know that no matter how dirty their seats get, they still keep them safe.
“If we get in an accident and like, if there’s been an accident, that we won’t get hurt,” said Victoria Samora.
Car seat experts with the national program, Safe Kids Worldwide, say cleaning requirements are different for different types of seats. As a general rule, they say, line dry the seat pad and harness.
They also say the most important thing a parent can do is keep the manufacturer’s operating guide and review the section on cleaning. It should give all the information needed to properly take apart, clean and reassemble the car seat.