Please tell me you didn’t just eat that

The Irish Times - Tuesday - Health - - Front Page - BRIAN SHEL­DON and PAUL DAW­SON

Many sur­faces we come into con­tact each day can carry bac­te­ria and other micro­organ­isms. How clean are sur­faces we touch ev­ery day? Are drink­ing games, shar­ing food and blow­ing out birth­day can­dles then eat­ing the cake san­i­tary prac­tices?

A mix­ture of trivia and ex­per­i­men­tal find­ings from the pages of Did You Just Eat That? (by Brian Shel­don and Paul Daw­son) that made the top eight Ir­ish Times “icky facts” are as fol­lows.

1 Hand­wash­ing

Hand­wash­ing may be the num­ber one thing you can do to pro­tect your­self and your friends from get­ting sick. Some facts that might cause you to avoid shak­ing hands are: 28 per cent of com­muters in five UK cities were found to have fae­cal mat­ter on their hands with bus rid­ers be­ing more con­tam­i­nated than train rid­ers.

One in five pub­lic sur­faces tested in five US cities had one or more bio­chem­i­cal mark­ers in­di­cat­ing the pres­ence of blood, sweat, mu­cus or urine. Movie the­atres in Los An­ge­les and New York were found to be highly con­tam­i­nated with, among other micro­organ­isms, fae­cal bac­te­ria.

2 Beer pong

You are get­ting more than beer when you play beer pong. Beer pong is be­lieved to have been first played at Ivy League Col­leges in the 1950s and in­volves throw­ing a ping pong ball into cups of beer af­ter which the beer is con­sumed.

Our stud­ies found that since the ball of­ten bounces around the area be­fore a suc­cess­ful throw and is also han­dled by var­i­ous peo­ple, you’re get­ting more than beer when you play beer pong. An av­er­age of 76,000 and up to 3 mil­lion bac­te­ria were found on ping pong balls used in univer­sity home­com­ing beer pong games.

3 Menus

Menus may be a source of cross con­tam­i­na­tion as they Menus are touched by the staff and other cus­tomers with un­known per­sonal hy­giene habits. In our study, over 2,000 bac­te­ria were found on ran­domly-sam­pled res­tau­rant menus and over 30 per cent of the bac­te­ria on dirty hands were trans­ferred to menus when han­dled.

4 Blow­ing on food

Blow­ing birth­day can­dles out can im­part oral bac­te­ria to the cake or food. Over 2,000 wa­ter droplets are re­leased in each hu­man breath and 81 per cent of flu patents had de­tectable flu virus in their ex­haled breath. Al­most 3,000 more bac­te­ria and as many as 37,000 bac­te­ria were found on the sur­face of birth­day cakes af­ter hav­ing the can­dles blown out.

5 Hand dry­ers

They blow bac­te­ria around and are not rec­om­mended for med­i­cal fa­cil­i­ties. One study found hand dry­ers in­creased bac­te­ria on hands af­ter wash­ing, while pa­per tow­els de­creased bac­te­ria on hands. Con­ven­tional hand air dry­ers spread bac­te­ria at least 3 feet from the dryer whereas jet-air dry­ers blew bac­te­ria a dis­tance of at least 6 feet from the dryer. In our study, an av­er­age of over 18,000 bac­te­ria were found on re­stroom hand dry­ers in gro­cery stores and over 2,000 in gas sta­tions and on a col­lege cam­pus.

6 Ice and lemons

We tested the trans­fer of bac­te­ria from hands to ice and lemons dur­ing han­dling and found an av­er­age of over 6,000 E. coli bac­te­ria were trans­ferred to 100 per cent of the wet lemons or ice when touched by our par­tic­i­pant’s hands that had been in­oc­u­lated with this test bac­terium. So ice you put in your drink can be con­tam­i­nated prior to freez­ing or by hands touch­ing ice and lemons just be­fore they plop in your drink.

7 Shar­ing pop­corn

The seats and handrails in movie the­atres you touch just be­fore diving into a bag of pop­corn have been touched by many peo­ple be­fore you and have been found to be con­tam­i­nated. We found that 85 per cent of the hand­fuls of pop­corn touched with con­tam­i­nated hands con­tained bac­te­ria and even 79 per cent of the pop­corn sam­ples re­main­ing in the serv­ing bowl con­tained bac­te­ria trans­ferred from the per­son tak­ing a hand­ful of pop­corn from the same bowl.

8 Dou­ble dip­ping

Bac­te­ria are read­ily trans­ferred to snack dips by dou­ble dip­ping and re­main vi­able in the dip af­ter two hours. We found that on av­er­age, be­tween 100 and 1,000 bac­te­ria were trans­ferred from the mouth to the dip by dou­ble dip­ping and as you might ex­pect, the thin­ner the dip, the more bac­te­ria was trans­ferred from the mouth to the dip since more thin dip drops back into the bowl.

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