[germ plates via Zazzle]
Let me state at the outset:
I am not a germaphobe.
I don’t have food rituals, issues, or obsessions. I use the silverware set out for me, I let different foods touch on my plate, and I play fast and loose with the 5-second rule.
What I do have is a healthy respect for bacteria and a reasonable gross-out threshold.
Every once in a while a bit of news is reported that makes me want to take a bath in hand sanitizer.
You know the kind of news I’m talking about. Reports like when the the FDA increased allowable levels of filth in food (currently it’s 30 insect fragments plus 1 rodent hair in 4 spoons’ full of peanut butter), or when a middle school student’s science project proved that the ice in fast food restaurant soda machines is dirtier that toilet water.
This is one of those bits of news.
A look at restaurants in three states, with samples analyzed by the lab at New York University's Microbiology Department, has located the germiest spot in a restaurant. And it's not the bathroom; not by a long shot. In fact, if you want to steer clear of nasty bacteria, you're often better off eating your meal in the ladies room than from some of the surfaces in the dining room.
There was some good news.
Salad bars were not as bad as you might have thought, although maybe that means we're not eating enough leafy green vegetables. And ketchup bottles, as sticky and goopy as they can be, don't harbor much in the way of food-borne illnesses.
And the bad news: take a deep breath, maybe gargle some mouthwash, and let’s look at some of the yucky, germy, disgusting things you probably put in your mouth.
Rims of glasses
Servers will too often grip glasses right at the top where we drink, giving pathogens a direct route into our bodies. Multiple bacteria were found, including one linked with tuberculosis.
Next time a french fry falls off your plate onto the table, I suggest you leave it there. A primary culprit is babies—spilling, drooling, and inadequately potty-trained, they are like little petri dishes perched in high chairs. The kids might be gone from the table but the server's damp rag guarantees that their germs will live on.
Salt and pepper shakers
How often are these cleaned? I mean really cleaned. That same rag that just mopped the table is not going to help matters. Fully 50% of the shakers tested positive for infectious contaminants.
On the fish plate, in the water pitcher, these are slices of bacterial garnish. Lemon juice does kill germs, but what about the germs on the lemon itself? Two-thirds of restaurant lemon wedges carry some kind of disease-causing microbes with E coli and other fecal bacteria in the lead, since half of the lemon wedges in the study contained human waste. You would need to dunk the fruit in bleach, not lemon juice, to kill it all.
Did you ever consider how many hands a menu has passed through? And if chips and salsa are served, take notice of how many people lick the salt off their fingers as they ponder the entrée selections. Strep and staph infections were found on menus, as well as cold and flu viruses which can survive for 18 hours on a laminated surface.
The top spot on the list is reserved for your bottom. Seventy percent of the chair seats had sickening bacteria on them. These seldom-sanitized surfaces are like cesspools on four legs with 17 different pathogens identified, including strains of E coli from fecal matter we routinely sit in.
You have all this to contemplate as you wait at the bar for your table. And for god's sake don't put your hand in the pawed-over dish of peanuts.
Have you learned nothing?!
Gigabiting: where food meets culture and technology.
More from health