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Is Chuck E. Cheese's Really Chuck E. Diseases?

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As parents, we've all taken our kids to child-friendly restaurants. After our co-worker claimed to have gotten ringworm from Chuck E. Cheese's, we all started to wonder ... is this happy place really as clean and safe as it seems? We decided to do our own investigation and find out. Get ready for ... GROSS!

With the help of world-famous germ expert "Dr. Germ," a.k.a. Dr. Charles Gerba, momlogic decided to find out what kind of bacteria our kids are exposed to while playing and eating at everyone's favorite pizza party place.

We tested three California Chuck E. Cheese's locations: one in Pasadena, one in Sun Valley, and one in Burbank. Under Dr. Gerba's supervision, momlogic swabbed numerous surfaces in the restaurant and arcade, including games, play mats, trays, tables, and high chairs. Those samples were then sealed and shipped to Dr. Gerba's lab for analysis. What we found surprised even Dr. Gerba ... and shocked the hell out of us!

pasadena chuck e cheese bus bacteria

Found on Yellow Bus Ride in Pasadena:
Serratia rubidaea. A rare cause of respiratory tract infections, and wound and blood infections.

sunvalley high chair chuck e cheese bacteria

Found on child's high chair in Sun Valley: Enterobacter sakazakii. Can cause necrotizing enterocolitis, bacteremia, and infant meningitis. Although most documented cases involve infants, infections have been found in adults as well.

sun valley chuck e cheese play mat bacteria

Found on play mat in Sun Valley: Klebsiella pneumoniae. Causes urinary tract infections, wound and bloodstream infections, and pneumonia.

sun valley chuck e cheese table bacteria

Found on table in Sun Valley: Enterobacter sakazakii. Can cause necrotizing enterocolitis, bacteremia, and infant meningitis. Although most documented cases involve infants, infections have been found in adults as well.

burbank chuck e cheese play mat bacteria

Found on play mat in Burbank: Klebsiella pneumoniae. Causes urinary tract infections, wound and bloodstream infections, and pneumonia.

Yick! We called Chuck E. Cheese's headquarters in Irving, Texas, and spoke to company spokesperson Brenda Holloway about what we found. Here's what she had to say:

"We clean and sanitize our games every night with an antibacterial sanitizing solution called Ster-Bac Blu. We try to inspect and maintain during the day as well. We have a large amount of kids who come through here, and with them, a large amount of bacteria. We try to keep up with it."

After getting the results from Dr. Germ, we were so freaked out that we went straight to momlogic's pediatrician (and mom of two) Dr. Cara Natterson to find out what this means for our kids ... and us. Here's what Dr. Cara had to say:

"It's worth noting that one of the bacteria found on high chairs and tables -- Enterobacter sakazakii -- can cause serious infection in a young infant. This is yet another reminder that if you are tempted to take your newborn baby out of the house, a crowded restaurant is not the place to go.

"Chuck E. Cheese's is really just an example of a kid destination, a place designed to combine dining and family fun. Though the results of this study are specific to Chuck E. Cheese's, the idea is to apply the concept to kid restaurants that double as play spaces. Given the runny-nosed populations that flock here, I don't think anyone will be too surprised to find that bacteria lurk in these types of establishments.

"As a mom, these bacteria sound alarming and scary. But as a doctor, I haven't ever seen a serious or life-threatening infection that can be clearly traced back to a kid-friendly restaurant.

"So take this all with a grain of salt. Personally, I almost never take my kids to these places, so that when I do, it is a major treat. And I pretty much stay away during the cold and flu season."

So how can you protect your children (and yourself!) from picking up bacteria at kid-oriented restaurants? Here are Dr. Cara's top five tips:

1. Hand washing, hand washing, hand washing!
Make sure your kids wash their hands before they eat. And it's fine to use hand sanitizers or wipes to clean off the table surface or high chair -- but thorough rubbing is necessary. Don't just splatter on the Purell.

If they play after the meal, have them wash again before going home. This is especially important for thumb or finger suckers and nose pickers.

2. Wipes
Wipes are a great second line of defense, but really shouldn't be used in lieu of hand washing. Still, if there's no bathroom, wipe the hands thoroughly.

Also use wipes if the table (or especially the high chair) looks gross.

For babies, you can buy disposable plastic high chair tray covers that tape onto the tray and keep your child's food a lot cleaner. These are very easy to find in most grocery stores.

3. Avoid crowded kid play spaces during cold and flu season
This is not a news flash -- when a place is crowded with kids who have runny noses and coughs, you want to keep yours out of the mix.

4. Bring your own toys
Crayons, matchbox-sized cars, and legos are good examples of toys that you can keep in your purse or diaper bag and pull out for your child when things get a little boring.

At a place like Chuck E. Cheese's, crayons don't compete with rides. But there are plenty of other restaurants where having your own distraction helps.

5. Remember, timing is everything
I like to take my kids out when they are hungry, or time their snacks so that they'll want to eat when they arrive. That way, the likelihood of play before eating (and getting germs from toys on the hands) goes down.

next: Celebrity Double Trouble
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