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Study Finds Starbucks Door Handles Are Dirtier than Subway Poles

The findings probably says more about the bacterial melting pot of New York City at large than about your neighborhood coffee shop.
Photo via Flickr user c w.

What would you do for a pumpkin spice latte?

Would you willingly smother your bare hands in a smorgasbord of potentially harmful bacteria? Probably not. But there's also a pretty good chance you've already unknowingly done that if you've grabbed a latte from a major coffee chain in New York city, according to a recent video from Men's Health's Gross series.

In the video, editor-in-chief Matt Bean hits the streets of New York in search of some of the city's dirtiest surfaces, from taxi door handles to CitiBike handlebars, and tests each one using a Hygiena ATP meter, which, according to Men's Health, "ranks how germy the surface of an item is, depending on the bacteria and biological material it finds" using Relative Light Units (RLUs). Not surprisingly, he finds a lot of germs, but the results are probably not as intuitive as you would assume.


"Every day you touch hundreds of potentially germ-infested and just plain filthy items, from your own keyboards to the office coffee machine to that door handle at your favorite coffee shop," Bean says—and he isn't kidding.

At one point in the video, he stops by a coffee shop to see how dirty its outside door handle is. As some deduced from the blurred out "Draft" poster and Freddo Nitro signs on the door, the store whose handle he scans is almost definitely a Starbucks, and the filthiness level of its door clocks in at 1,090 RLUs. To put that figure into context, Men's Health also states that, "If something gets a rating of 50, it shouldn't touch your food."

READ MORE: All of the Terrible Things I Learned While Working as a Barista at a Global Coffee Chain

The results of the test may say more about New York City than it does about the health standards of a corporate coffee chain, but it's also a reminder that you can never be too sure what's damn well covered in icky germs and what's not.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the whole video is that those perma-greasy subway hold bars came in at a surprisingly low 35 RLUs. Similarly, a Grand Central Station entrance door handle got a 45 RLUs ranking, while a CitiBike handlebar topped the list of dirtiest surfaces with a whopping 1,512 on the Hygiena ATP meter, meaning that the coffee shop door handle was the second "germiest" thing measured by Bean.

When not being hovered over Starbucks door handles for gross-out experiments, ATP meters are often used to help clean surfaces in a medical setting, and they have been found to demonstrate "acceptable linearity and repeatability in their readings" in a study looking at their reliability "in healthcare settings." Hygiena has also developed ATP meters for the food and beverage industry.

MUNCHIES reached out to Starbucks for comment on the video but has not yet received a response.