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Keeping Safe In Richmond's "Germiest" Warm Weather Spots

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Richmond, VA--During the spring and summer, Richmond comes alive, in more ways than one: bacteria and potentially deadly diseases bloom out in full force when the weather warms up. We visited nearly twenty popular warm weather destinations around the city , and tested each to find out what type of germs local encounter when they go there.

Out of the twenty locations around metro Richmond we visited and tested, five stood out as having the most potential to harbor nasty bacteria.

The James River is a favorite hangout spot during the summer months. A quick swab of the river water and rocks grew some scary-looking samples in a Petri dish. Although the samples looked dangerous, Dr. John Turner, a pathologist at Johnston-Willis Hospital, says the bacteria aren't as nasty as they look.

"For most people who go in the James and swim this is not harmful in any way."

Next on our list was the Richmond Farmer's Market. Richmond has fully embraced the "Buy Local, Go Green" movement, and trips to the Farmer's Market are part of many locals' weekly routine.

We purchased a variety of vegetables and fruits from the Farmer's Market for our experiment: spinach, kale, fresh strawberries, asparagus, romaine lettuce and spring onion. We swabbed the food, and Dr. Turner analyzed our results.

"So when you bite into the side of a fruit you buy at the Farmer's Market, or grocery store for that matter, this is what's on the surface, bacillus," explained Dr. Turner as he displayed a scummy-looking substance that grew in the Petri dish from our samples.

Dr. Turner says bacillus is the reason why it is very important to wash fruits and vegetables before eating them. While bacillus isn't harmful, it is best to remove it from food before consuming it.

We also visited a local park to test the piece of equipment many use to grill up juicy steaks and hamburgers each summer: public grills.

One family's delicious meal could be the next family's salmonella sickness, as Dr. turner explains the danger of grills.

"Food products are where the risks are, because you're in-taking the material."

While our test didn't reveal salmonella, e coli or anything of that magnitude, there was plenty the naked eye could not see.

Dr. Turner told us after looking under the microscope, "There are some temperature-resistant organisms that will grow in this situation."

These type of bacteria are safe, but there could be something more harmful on the cooking surface, so make sure the grill is extremely hot before cooking your dinner on it.

"High heat kills the pathogenic bacteria so that's a key point," said Dr. Turner.

Perhaps the most popular destination for parents of young children, we stopped by a neighborhood playground next. We swabbed the swings, sliding board, and a rock wall; out of those objects, the wall had the most germs.

"Anything that comes from folks' hands, kids' hands and a little bit of stuff that comes from dirt," Dr. Turner told us. "These are not harmful unless you're immuno-suppressed or have other illnesses or other problems."

To keep your kids safe after a visit to the playground, be sure they have a post-playtime bath.

Finally, we uncovered the germiest of all the spots we visited: the public water fountain.

It may seem like common sense to some, but Dr. Turner warned us, "Don't put your mouth on the water fountain."

His warning comes with good reason: "On the water fountain especially, we did find Enterobacter species, that can be found in the human intestines."

Dr. Turner said some basic rules will help you avoid germs in all of the areas we visited.

"It's amazing what elementary school common sense will get you, hand washing, don't put your mouth on the water fountain, wash your foods cook your foods appropriately, it will get you a long way."

Copyright 2013 by Young Broadcasting of Richmond

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