5 minute read

Germ Swab Analysis of Packages

The fear of germs on delivered packages surged amid the pandemic, but how dirty are deliveries? We tested boxes and sent them to the lab to find out.

Germ swab analysis of packages header

Are the boxes on your porch delivering more than what you ordered? We assessed the germs on these packages and found how Americans handle them once delivered.

Key takeaways

  • A retail package contains 6x the bacteria of a toilet seat.
  • A large box package contains 11x the bacteria of a kitchen sink.
  • 13% of Americans don’t wash their hands after handling a package.

There’s more to a box than meets the eye

We come into contact with many surfaces in the outside world, everything from door handles to gas pumps to other people’s hands, and most people practice proper sanitization. However, what about the germs we unknowingly invite into our homes in the form of packages? What’s lurking beyond the naked eye?

The fear of germs on delivered packages surged amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Some recipients wiped down packages or sprayed them with disinfectants to kill off viruses and bacteria. Others left them untouched for days to let time do the work. 

Is that overkill? How dirty are those boxes, really?

To find out how many germs are on your precious packages, we swabbed boxes from different carriers and had them lab-tested. We also surveyed over 1,000 Americans about how they treat and open packages.

Let’s find out if your deliveries need a wipe-down or if you can rip right in.

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Boxes of bacteria

Colony-forming units (CFUs) are a count of microorganisms such as fungi, viruses, and good and bad bacteria present in a sample. Although there is no established “safe level,” it’s best to practice proper sanitization habits to reduce the risk of pathogens as much as possible.

As sterile as delivery boxes may look, the only way to tell how germy they are is to test them. We swabbed three different types of packages and sent the samples to a lab so researchers could measure the number of CFUs on each box.

Take a look at the average number of germs living on packages.

Germ swab anaylsis breakdown of packages

Turns out, those deliveries are teeming with germs! You might expect the amount to depend on the size of the box, but think again: While retail packages hosted the least — just 2,900 CFUs, large boxes had 7.8 million, and small boxes had a whopping 10 million.

An example of gram-negative bacteria is escherichia coli, otherwise known as E. coli. This bacteria has the potential to bring on a slew of unpleasant issues like cholecystitis, bacteremia, cholangitis, and urinary tract infection (UTI).

While all types of bacteria can be dangerous in too high a number, gram-negative bacteria can be especially harmful due to their high resistance to antibiotics.

These averages are pretty surprising. With up to 10 million germs lurking on the outside of that box, you’ll want to at least clean the contents well before using.

Key Takeaway: Small delivery boxes contained the most germs — ten million CFUs!

Dirtier than the kitchen sink

Packages may arrive covered in germs, but how do they compare to other household surfaces? We swabbed several household objects and compared their CFUs to those of our box samples to find out just how dirty your deliveries are.

Contamination comparison of packages vs. household objects.

Our lab comparison gave us some good news and some bad news. The good news is your house is probably much cleaner than you thought! But unfortunately, your deliveries could be turning your house into a germ hotel.

Small packages contained four times the amount of CFUs as a headset. Considering a headset spends most of its time on your head and over your ears, that’s a lot of germs for one small box.

Another germ magnet is your toilet seat, for reasons you could probably imagine. Retail packages, however, contained six times the amount of bacteria as this heavily-used surface.

Even more contaminated than the toilet seat is the kitchen sink, where you put dirty dishes and dump all kinds of unwanted liquids. And yet, a large delivery box contained 11 times more germs.

If you’re currently grabbing supplies to begin disinfecting your home after a recent delivery, so are we.

Key Takeaway: A large box package contains 11 times the bacteria of a kitchen sink.

Package-handling protocols

With all those germs on their incoming packages, how do most Americans handle their deliveries once they arrive? How many try to de-germ them before opening, where do they open them, and how many wash their hands after handling packages?

Package handling habits

Despite the high level of germs on boxes, 26% of Americans don’t sanitize or disinfect packages before opening them. Thankfully, 87% said they at least wash their hands afterward.

As for where they open the box, 52% have used the kitchen table, another 52% said they use the bed, and 49% have opened them on the kitchen counter. We suggest the table or counter option as they’ll be much easier to sanitize than your bed, or maybe, you can just keep big boxes on the floor.

While children handled packages less often than adults (who wants their kid using a box cutter?) 36% of parents have let a child open or handle delivery boxes.

Key Takeaway: Only 26% of Americans sanitized or disinfected packages before opening them.

A little spray goes a long way

Though you may want to rush to open that long-awaited package on your doorstep, that exciting moment can bring tons of germs into your home. Lucky for you, keeping them out doesn’t take much effort.

Wiping down or spraying a box with disinfectant or sanitizer can help somewhat, but since cardboard is porous, you’re better off disposing of (or, better yet, recycling) it right away once opened and emptied. Then, wipe down the area where you opened it and wash your hands afterward.

Package delivery is a staple in American retail, and those dirty boxes aren’t going to get any cleaner. But with a little care and diligence, you can enjoy your deliveries without bringing any unwanted guests into your home.

Methodology 

We conducted three gram and stain culture swab tests across different packages. Each surface was swabbed three times. CFUs per swab were averaged for each surface type. It is possible that with a larger sample size of surfaces, we could have gained more insight into CFU levels. No statistical testing was performed, and the claims listed above are based on means alone. As such, this content is exploratory.

As for the survey component, we surveyed 1,006 Americans regarding their package opening habits. The mean age of respondents was 40 years old. Among them, 52% were male, and 48% were female. Respondents comprised the following generational breakdown: 21% Gen Z, 27% millennials, 27% Gen X, and 25% baby boomers.

About Circuit Package Tracker

We take the worry out of waiting for deliveries. With the Circuit Package Tracker app, you can find yours in a matter of seconds with just a few taps.

Fair use statement

Know a germaphobe who might find this article useful? Feel free to share this article with anyone you’d like. We just ask that you do so for noncommercial purposes only and provide a link back to this page to give the authors their due credit.

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Published14 October 2022
Updated15 November 2022
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