Filthy Fashion: What's hiding on the bottom of your handbag?

(Credit: KFOX14/CBS4)

Purses. They hold all of the necessities and then some. We know what's inside them. But KFOX14 News found it's what on the bottom of your handbag that may have you thinking twice about where you set it down.

Many people probably don't think about it. It touches multiple surfaces each day.

"At home on the carpet, on my counter, my car seat, here at work at my desk," said Jennifer Gomez.

"I set it down everywhere," said Sarah Ontiveros. "It goes with me on school events, to get kids from school, everywhere."

These two woman let KFOX14 swab the bottom of their purses to see what kind of bacteria we might find.

KFOX14's Jillian Fertig swabbed the bottom of her bag, too.

Next, we labeled our swabs and took them to the New Mexico State University Biology Department.

A week later, we went back to find out the results.

"So you gave us the swabs and they are stored and we came back here and streaked them on a Petri dish," said biologist Michele Nishiguchi. "We let them grow for about two days at room temperature, because your purses are obviously at room temperature."

Nishiguchi worked with graduate student Apple Helen Kirby to grow the bacteria and run the tests.

"They produce all these little colonies on the plate," Nishiguchi said, as she showed KFOX14 the results on the petri dishes. We blasted that against a government database and she [Kirby] actually found out some very interesting results. We found out that they were part of the Pseudomonas genus, which is often found in soil and they like to grow in moist environments."

"These types of bacteria can really hang on to material, like in purses, and they pretty much take over the whole area," Nishiguchi said. "When people set their purses down on floors or restaurants, at the office if you don't have a place to store it, oftentimes you'll just pick up whatever's been carried in on your shoes."

So is this type of bacteria harmful?

"It's not so good if you get it into your system, but if it's just floating around and you don't have any open wounds, it's fine," Nishiguchi said.

But she said it can cause several types of bacterial infections if the bacteria gets into your blood stream.

"If this gets into artificial areas like valves or stints, it can cause a clogging of that," Nishiguchi said.

"If you do have an immune system that's compromised, say to have sort of an open wound or you're in the hospital, or you're unhealthy for some reason, then yes, they can cause some diseases," Kirby said.

We took the findings back to Ontiveros and Gomez.

"Well, I didn't know what to expect," Ontiveros said.

"Ok, well, I'm gonna make sure to go clean my purse right now," Gomez said.

Both women said the results made them more aware of where they set their handbags.

"We're too busy to think about that," Ontiveros said. "You know, I mean your day-to-day stuff gets you, you just throw your stuff on the counter when you get home you don't think about it."

So how can you prevent this type of bacteria from growing on your handbag? The answer is pretty simple.

"If you don't want to have such a germy-laden handbag, just clean it," Nishiguchi said. "Get one of those hand wipes or fresh wipes or whatever and run it over your purse. Especially with a leather purse, since leather is not synthetic and it's a natural product, bacteria love those things and they like nooks and crannies."

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