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Tuesday 26th March, 2013 – New research from MasterCard shows that 54% of Brits believe that bank notes and coins are the least hygienic item they come into contact with, ahead of even escalator handrails.  Research shows that they believe cash to be worn out, dirty and riddled with bacteria.

Independent research commissioned by MasterCard and carried out by scientists at Oxford University reveals that European bank notes on average contain over 26,000 bacteria, with 2,400 bacteria found on the cleanest, newest currency.

Commenting on the state of the average bank note, Ian Thompson, Professor of Engineering Science at Oxford University, said: “Brits’ perceptions of dirty cash are not without reason. The Euros we tested harboured an average of 11,000 bacteria, which, for a number of pathogenic organisms is sufficient for passing on infection. Previous studies of bank notes have indicated contamination with potentially harmful bacteria such as Klebsiella[1] and Enterobacter[2] species which can cause disease in humans. Increasingly antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria are a threat, a point recently raised by Dame Sally Davies, chief medical officer of England. With banknotes passing between so many individuals there is merit in a wider study tracking the spread of resistant strains through movement of bank notes globally.”

The UK isn’t the only nation who perceive cash to be dirty.  In all 15 European countries surveyed cash was perceived to be the least hygienic item of all – more so than escalator handrails, the buttons on a payment terminal and books in a library.  On average across Europe, 57% of people thought cash was the dirtiest item, so Brits in fact give cash a bit more credit than some of their neighbours.

Marion King, MasterCard president of the UK & Ireland Division added, “83% of Europeans believe that handling cash is dirty and that it contains bacteria. It’s a commonly held view in Europe and in the UK that relative to other daily objects, cash is by far the most dirty. For a significant amount of people it’s interesting to see a majority of Europeans prefer paying by card and find it a simpler, more straightforward way of paying. It’s now true to say that the majority also find it more hygienic.”

Perceptions of cash across Europe, December 2012 and actual results of scientific tests, March 2013.

 Country Column APercentage of people who view cash as dirtiest item Column BNumber of bacteria found on national currency, in independent test
Italy (euro) 66% 11066
Switzerland (franc) 64% 32400
Poland (zloty) 63% 25700
Spain (euro) 63% 11066
Denmark (krone)Russia (ruble) 62%60% 4026630000
Average across Europe 57% 26000
Netherlands (euro) 56% 11066
Belgium (euro) 55% 11066
Sweden (krona) 55% 39600
UK (pounds)Austria (euro) 54%54% 1820011066
Norway (krone) 54% 11733
Germany (euro) 51% 11066
France (euro) 50% 11066
Finland (euro) 48% 11066

Source: TNS Data

About the consumer research:

This report presents the result of an online omnibus survey. The 3 questions were asked to approximately 1,000 respondents in each of the 15 following countries: GB, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, France, Switzerland, Austria, Spain, Italy, Poland, Russia.

The research was conducted between December 14th and 20th 2012.

The results were weighted on age, gender and region, in order to reflect each country’s population.

About the Oxford University research:

The tests were conducted by swabbing the banknotes buffer solution (PBS) to suspend the bacteria, and this was then diluted in series and pipetted onto Tryptic Soy agar Petri dishes; a nutrient source on which bacteria can grow. The Petri dishes were then incubated for 5 days at 30ºC and the number of bacteria was then counted in triplicate (colony forming units, CFU). Because only around 1% of bacteria can grow in the lab, results were then multiplied by 100 to obtain the approximate number of bacteria on each note. This is standard practice to quantify environmental bacteria in vitro.

We tested 25 different bank notes, across 6 different currencies, and ten individual swabs were taken on each note.

About MasterCard:

MasterCard (NYSE: MA),, is a global payments and technology company. It operates the world’s fastest payments processing network, connecting consumers, financial institutions, merchants, governments and businesses in more than 210 countries and territories. MasterCard’s products and solutions make everyday commerce activities – such as shopping, traveling, running a business and managing finances – easier, more secure and more efficient for everyone. Follow us on Twitter @MasterCardNews, join the discussion on the Cashless Conversations Blog and subscribe for the latest news.

[1] Klebsiella is a bacterium that causes respiratory, urinary, and wound infections

[2] Enterobacter is a natural bacterium which occurs normally or pathogenically in intestines of humans and other animals, and which sometimes grow in plants