By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer
A test of several McDonald’s touchscreen menus in the UK came back positive for feces, Metro reported. The menu screens are supposed to serve as substitutes for standing in line to order. How big a concern are daily germs?
According to the Metro article, large-screen touch menus that enable diners at McDonald’s to punch in their orders tested positive for multiple gut and fecal bacteria. Some of the specific germs that were identified included listeria, staphylococcus, Enterococcus faecalis, and several others. Every machine contained coliforms, bacteria found in animal and human digestive tracts.
Spreading germs is a constant concern, especially with regard to widespread diseases like the current coronavirus making its way around the globe. At the same time, we have countless germs in our houses that don’t get us sick. So which germs are the most concerning and how do we stay well?
Kitchens and Bathrooms
“We all suspect that the kitchen is one of the dirtiest places in the home,” said Dr. Barry Fox, Clinical Professor of Infectious Disease at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. “One surprise is that the kitchen floor, just in front of the sink, has more bacteria than the trash can—and yes, the sponges around the sink own a large burden of bacteria.”
Dr. Fox added that a wet sponge can be sterilized by microwaving it for two minutes, though you should take great care in handling it afterwards since it will be hot. Similarly, washing chicken in the kitchen sink can lead to a contamination of campylobacter or salmonella if a sponge falls in or if your unwashed hands come into contact with something else in the kitchen.
“Some people don’t realize that when you flush a toilet, bacteria in the toilet actually disperse into the air, so anything within a 3-foot radius could be contaminated,” Dr. Fox said. “Even toothbrushes lying around can be contaminated—in fact, the average toothbrush after brushing has over 10 million germs. However, as long as it’s your own toothbrush, these are your own bacteria, and not harmful.”
Staying Healthy Despite Germ Contact
Considering Dr. Fox’s statistics about germs in the home, it may be impossible to ever be absolutely “germ-free.” However, there are steps we can take to minimize our contact with harmful germs and to stay well besides. Often, basic hygiene is an important—if obvious—first step.
“Many diseases are spread by coughing or sneezing, [and] when you cough or sneeze, germs can travel up to 6 or 8 feet,” Dr. Fox said. “Using a tissue, or your hand, or a bent arm to cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing can help stop the spread. Throw used tissues away and clean your hands afterward.”
Dr. Fox also said that we touch our faces with our hands an average of 20 times per hour. “Try not to touch your eyes, nose, and mouth, which are mucous membranes, which provide easy access to your body for germs,” he said. “Even when your hands appear to be clean, germs are often spread this way.”
Another common good hygiene practice is using hand sanitizer. Dr. Fox said that hand sanitizers are between 60 and 70 percent alcohol and they work by twisting the proteins in bacteria out of shape, or “denaturing” them.
“The Center for Disease Control, or CDC, Clean Hands Campaign has instructions on how to use hand sanitizers properly,” he said. “You have to put the alcohol gel in the palm of one hand [and] apply enough of the product to wet your hands completely. Next, you rub your hands together and you clean all parts of the hands—fingers, thumbs, nails, and wrists—and you rub your hands together until they’re dry.”
Dr. Fox said the way to tell if you’ve used enough hand sanitizer is if it takes 25 to 30 seconds to rub it all into your hands.
There’s no escaping germs, but by practicing good and thorough hygiene, we can minimize the risk that hostile germs pose to us.
Dr. Barry Fox contributed to this article. Dr. Fox is a Clinical Professor of Infectious Disease at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. He received his undergraduate degree in Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry from Yale University and his medical degree from Vanderbilt University.