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 am well-acquainted 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 per 100 grams, or about 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.
Take a deep breath, maybe gargle some mouthwash, and let’s look at some tales from the annals of yucky, germy, disgusting things you probably put in your mouth.
When was the last time you saw someone sanitizing a drinking fountain? You see busy custodians and posted cleaning schedules in public restrooms, but the fountain? You truly are safer drinking out of the toilet.
Did you ever notice that most supermarkets have a dispenser of antibacterial wipes right by the shopping carts? I suggest you make use of them. Drippy packages of raw chicken, teething babies drooling on the handles; this is where you put your food?! If that doesn’t get you, how about the recent University of Arizona study that found two-thirds of the shopping carts tested were contaminated with fecal bacteria.
Did you ever consider how many hands a menu has passed through? A recent study in the Journal of Medical Virology reports that cold and flu viruses can survive for 18 hours on the surface. And the next time chips and salsa are served, take notice of how many people lick the salt off their fingers as they ponder the entrée selections.
Lemon juice does kill germs, but what about the germs on the lemon itself? A 2007 study in the Journal of Environmental Health found disease-causing microbes on two-thirds of the restaurant lemon wedges in its study. With 25 different micro-organisms, including E coli and other fecal bacteria, you would need to dunk the fruit in bleach, not lemon juice, to kill it all.
ABC News published an eye-catching headline earlier this year: Soda Fountains Squirt Fecal Bacteria. Yeah, that pretty much covers it. It cited a study published in the International Journal of Food Microbiology that found coliform bacteria, which is typically fecal in origin, in 48% of the sodas dispensed in fast food restaurants. The self-serve dispensers weren’t much worse than the ones behind the counter. Is that good news?
The pawed-over peanuts on the bar, the bowl of pretzels at a Superbowl party, free samples at the market…
Haven’t you learned anything?
It’s estimated that each of us eats 2 pounds of insect fragments, rodent hair, and excrement per year. Find out which foods are the culprits. The FDA Defects Level Handbook defines the allowable levels of filth in common food items.