Just stop, take a minute and don’t worry about it - The Explorer: Opinion

Just stop, take a minute and don’t worry about it

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James C. Sandefer

Posted: Wednesday, September 4, 2013 4:00 am

The enemy is everywhere; we can’t get away from them. Germs are every place we can imagine zealously going about their reproductive business, and often in a few locations that may surprise you. 

I hadn’t given this creepy topic much thought until I recently overheard a couple of hygiene homophobes engaged in conversation, and they seemed to be onto something that deserved some immediate attention, so I launched a catastrophe avoidance research blitz and found countless examples surrounding us every day.

For example, been in a public restroom lately? Forget about the obvious potential for microbes on various pieces of plumbing equipment and focus on your personal bathroom habits. Let’s presume that you’re hygienically astute, so you washed your hands before exiting, right? Good job; did you then instinctively reach for the door handle with an open hand on your way out? Nice work; you just contaminated your hand.

Do you prefer a slice of lemon in your glass of water when you’re dining out? That can be a tasteful choice, but only if you’re interested in guzzling a slew of slimy germs that were unintentionally planted there by the kitchen person who openhandedly held and sliced the lemon. Speaking of guzzling, how was your straw delivered? Did it come in a wrapper that you opened at the table or was it handed to you ready to stick into your glass? 

Do you really believe that a fresh-from-the-box pair of sanitary gloves is used every time a food service worker leaves the food preparation area for whatever reason and then returns to the job at hand? The next time you have an opportunity, glance into the kitchen and note how many pairs of gloves are actually in use. You’d assume that all the food handlers hands were sanitarily rubberized, but don’t bet on it. All too often those preparing the meals also perform double duty as cash register attendants, and then immediately return to food preparation wearing the same pair of gloves that placed your money into the cash register. The last time I checked, cash money was still one of the biggest germ farms in operation. 

Here’s another festival of bacteria: The tabletop in virtually any eating place, including the home countertop. Oh, don’t forget your personal cutting board, it’s probably reproducing the little critters right now. Of course, in a restaurant, you watched as the diligent staff member sprayed some germ killer all over the top of the table and then wiped it seemingly clean prior to your arrival, but they likely used the same damp cloth for cleaning all the seats and tables. What that means is that microorganisms are conveniently transported from one seating venue to another throughout the day and they thrive and multiply on the damp cleaning rag. Sometimes in a rush, cleaning of these unhygienic cloths is accomplished by quickly washing them out in the nearest kitchen sink by hand and promptly returning them to duty.

Feeling a bit queasy? Relax; I have more good news for you.  

How about all of those condiments we often use to enhance the taste of things we enjoy as we’re waiting for the main course to arrive? For instance, freshly baked, hot bread sitting on the table just cries out for some slathering of butter; and what’s a salad without some dressing dripping over its lettuce leaves; or maybe a concoction of dips are in order for the chips that were “hand slung” into the bowl sitting in front of you. But here’s the real clincher: Were your condiments served in open containers? If they were, it means they were probably filled from large open containers in the kitchen and exposed to everything flying around the air in that area, to include sneezes, coughs, dust, hair and just about anything else imaginable. Do you ever wonder about what happens to the condiments that you never use? We assume they’re thrown away, but who knows for sure. It just keeps getting better, doesn’t it?

Have you encountered any of these recently? Unwrapped tooth picks, unwrapped drinking glasses in hotel rooms, public telephones, drinking fountains, open half and half   containers at your favorite coffee house, and walking barefoot across the carpet in a hotel room. 

Finally, have you greeted anyone lately with a traditional handshake? What are the odds that they’re a “hand sneeze? Most people wouldn’t intentionally propel their sneeze germs across the room at 65 miles per hour, think nothing of catching all 10 gazillion of the little microbes in one hand, and then share them with folks during a perfectly anticipated social greeting—the handshake. Kinda puts a damper on the old grip and grin, huh?  

I suppose the real dilemma is that we’ve made it this far in spite of all those germs, so what’s the big deal, why change our habits, what’s the worst that can happen to us at this point? 

At least now you know a few things to watch for the next time you’re having a meal or merely visiting a public venue. 

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