How clean is that play area? Ball pits ‘are a hive of germs’ Health concerns for play industry, not to mention coffee shops and waiting rooms.
You’re kicking back in your local coffee shop, the kids are happy in the children’s play area – but are they actually safe? Yes they are, but only until you get down to the microscopic level where germs and viruses live.
That’s the major concern of a highly-accredited stem cell storage company which says that play areas and ball pits are hives of germs and filth that could easily make a child ill.
The UK’s Stem cell bank StemProtect.co.uk says that the worst culprits are the ball pits, especially the larger warehouse-based play-barns where a “surprise package” could lie in wait for hours or even days without the staff being aware of the hazard.
StemProtect.co.uk spokesperson Mark Hall says: “I’m a parent of very young children, I’ve watched some of these places with my professional hat on, and what I’ve learned has truly disturbed me.”
Mark has seen – but has also been told by staff members who did not want to be identified – of these potentially hazardous incidents and practices:
• Vomit and faeces in ball pits not being cleaned immediately, and getting lost in the “churn” of playing children
• Parents not reporting incidents involving vomit or faeces in play warehouses because they think they might be banned or charged extra
• Young children licking or putting ball pit balls in their mouths
• Spilled sticky drinks and food in ball pits and on toys
• Toys in communal play areas at coffee shops, cafes and waiting rooms not being cleaned for weeks
• Filthy-looking toys in doctors’ surgery and dentists’ waiting rooms going straight into the mouths of toddlers
“You take your kids to these ball pit play warehouses to have fun,” says Hall, “But I’ve seen kids emerge with their legs covered in poo.
“And there worst thing was that it wasn’t even their own. There was a nasty surprise package left at the end of one of the big slides by a previous customer, and all of a sudden it’s everywhere.”
That’s an issue confirmed by staff members at one warehouse play area in the south of England, who all spoke on condition of anonymity:
• “We’re forever dealing with little ones spewing and pooing, but there’s only so much you can do. We get the worst of it out, but proper deep cleans are few and far between.”
• “Actually, spilled drinks like cola and juice are the worst, because nobody ever reports that kind of incident, and everything ends up sticky.”
The reason for the lack of thorough cleaning is simple:
• “We’d have to close of huge areas of the warehouse if we did that. And hiring out to adult laser games and parties in the evenings makes that a tough ask.”
• “We do our best day-to-day, but it’s like trying to stamp out a grass fire. Clear up one spilled drink and a soggy nappy comes off in the baby ball-pit. Nightmare.”
StemProtect.co.uk‘s Hall says that the problem isn’t concerned to larger warehouse play parks, but to any business or organisation while makes play facilities available.
“One of our local coffee shops closed recently, and their play area for the kiddies was just terrible,” he says. “I wouldn’t let my kids play there – the toys went hand-to-mouth and everything looked tired, tacky and dirty.
“Sadly, that’s the same story wherever you go, even in doctors’ surgeries.”
Even when toys and games are cleaned daily, there’s still the very real risk of infection being passed between children, Stem Protect says.
StemProtect.co.uk is in the business of protecting the health of children, so it’s shocking to see grubby toys in surgeries where the young ones are at their most vulnerable.
“Those bead puzzle tables are very popular in waiting rooms as they can keep a toddler quiet for a long time,” says Hall, “But how many kids have touched those beads today? How many have been in mouths today?
“It’s all very well cleaning them first thing in the morning, but that’s only good until the first contract with bodily liquids.”
That’s the same for any piece of play equipment, from huge warehouse down to a doll at the dentist’s, Stem Protect says.
“We’re not trying to put parents off these places,” Hall says, “But a packet of wet wipes in your bag go a long way toward piece of mind”