Seem­ingly harm­less habits

SOME­THING AS SIM­PLE AS HOLD­ING A MENU OR BLOW­ING OUT YOUR BIRTH­DAY CAN­DLES CAN BE A SOURCE OF BAC­TE­RIA TRANS­FER

The Gulf Today - Panorama - - Contents - By Su­san Ardis

Over the course of three decades, food sci­en­tist and pro­fes­sor at Clem­son Univer­sity Paul Daw­son has stud­ied how com­mon food habits may in­crease the spread of bac­te­ria in the human sys­tem.

Ac­cord­ing to a re­port by CNN, ev­ery year, Daw­son and his group of un­der­grad­u­ate and grad­u­ate stu­dents come up with a re­search project re­lated to food habits and then quan­tify how dirty it ac­tu­ally is.

While most peo­ple don’t get ill from the small amounts of bac­te­ria nor­mally found in food, or trans­ferred during the ba­sic han­dling of food, how many of these “six dirty habits” are you guilty of?

The 5-sec­ond rule

Just about every­one does this: A cookie or piece of candy — or a sand­wich — drops to the floor. Pick it up within five sec­onds and it’s still good to eat. Right? Well … maybe. It de­pends on the type of food, the type of sur­face and the type and amount of bac­te­ria. Solid foods dropped on a clean-look­ing solid or hard sur­face don’t trans­fer too much bac­te­ria to be harm­ful. But wet foods on a sur­face like a car­peted floor? … Nope.

Dou­ble dip­ping

If you’ve ever seen some­one take a bite of a chip and then dip that chip back into a bowl of dip, that’s called dou­ble dip­ping. Daw­son and his group tested the amount of bac­te­ria trans­fer present when chips are dou­ble dipped into three com­mon types of dip: salsa, melted choco­late and queso cheese.

Once again, de­pend­ing on the type of dip, much higher bac­te­rial pop­u­la­tions were found after dou­ble dip­ping. While there was some min­i­mal bac­te­rial trans­fer in the melted choco­late and queso — there was five times as much trans­fer in the salsa. The the­ory is that chips that have been bit­ten and dipped in salsa may not hold all of the salsa, and bits of salsa fall­ing back

into the bowl carry the mouth’s bac­te­ria with it.

Shar­ing pop­corn at the movies

OK, this one is ac­tu­ally not so bad. After Daw­son and his group spread non-in­fec­tious E. coli bac­te­ria on the hands of their sub­jects and had them share a bowl of pop­corn, they found that the trans­fer rate was min­i­mal — less than 1 per cent in­crease.

Wa­ter with lemon (or any other fruit)

You sit down at a restau­rant and the wait­per­son brings you a glass of wa­ter. You ask for a slice of lemon to go with it. Daw­son tested the rate of bac­te­rial trans­fer be­tween hands and ice scoops with slices of wet and dry le­mons. Test par­tic­i­pants coated their hands and ice scoops with non­in­fec­tious E. coli and then scooped ice and han­dled the lemon slices. One hun­dred per cent of the bac­te­ria were trans­ferred to the wet lemon slices while only 30 per cent was trans­ferred to the dry slices. On av­er­age, 19 per cent of the bac­te­ria on the hands were trans­ferred to the ice, while 66 per cent of the bac­te­ria on the scoop were trans­ferred.

Blow­ing out birth­day can­dles on a cake

“The amount of bac­te­ria varies a lot from per­son to per­son based on how sloppy some­one is when blow­ing their can­dles out, but it does oc­cur,” Daw­son said. Ac­cord­ing to Daw­son’s re­search, blow­ing out can­dles over ic­ing re­sulted in an in­crease of 1,400 per cent, or 15 times more, bac­te­ria re­cov­ered from ic­ing com­pared to ic­ing that did not have can­dles blown out. So maybe have the cake, just scrape off the ic­ing.

Menu, please

Usu­ally, the first thing a diner is handed after be­ing seated is the restau­rant’s menu. Be­fore you freak out, re­mem­ber that small amounts of bac­te­ria are not harm­ful and oc­cur nat­u­rally. But Daw­son and his group found that bac­te­ria are trans­ferred just by han­dling menus. Higher traf­fic in restau­rants during peak times pro­duced higher num­bers of bac­te­ria. Over­all, Daw­son says that day-to-day, if you keep a clean kitchen and ob­serve ba­sic lev­els of clean­li­ness and hy­giene, there shouldn’t be a prob­lem with a lit­tle bac­te­ria.

“These stud­ies are not re­ally big food­safety is­sues, but they’re in­ter­est­ing and fun. I hope they do make peo­ple aware of good hy­giene,” he said. “But I don’t want any­one to be a ger­mo­phobe about it.”

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