Friday, February 17, 2006

Don’t shop, surf or stand up

In an article published in The Age a couple of days ago:, a survey carried out by the Korea Consumer Protection Board has found that shopping cart handles and computer mouses used in cyber cafes are the most bacteria-infested items in a list of commonly touched objects.

Shopping cart handles are, worryingly, found to be ‘the worst of the worst.’ They apparently contain an average of 1100 colony forming units (CFU) of bacteria per 10 sq cm. That sounds like a lot, not that I know what an acceptable level is. The worst half dozen are: 1. Shopping cart handles – 1100 CFU per 10 sq cm 2. Internet café computer mouse - 690 3. Bus hand straps - 380 4. Public toilet handles and door knobs - 340 5. Lift buttons - 130 6. Train hand straps - 86 The computer mouses allegedly hosted an average of 690 CFU - more than twice the concentration found on doorknobs and handles in public toilets. I guess when our nannas told us to wait for someone else to push open the public toilet door before leaving, it was too early in the 1970s for her to have any knowledge about the impending threat of computer germs, let alone mouse grot.

The Korean study also found that while more than 77 per cent of people were aware of the importance of washing their hands, only 47.9 per cent actually bothered to wash them. Isn’t that charming? Over half of the general population (at least in Korea) clearly can’t be shagged to wash their hands before or after eating, visiting the toilets, or…..actually, it’s too scary to think about what else they might do without washing afterwards, especially considering that shopping cart handles have higher amounts of CFU than toilet doors. And to think that my local Coles makes us insert a $2 coin for the privelege of using the damn trolley!

It might be safe to assume that we’ve all got the message about washing our hands when using the toilets, particularly when using public conveniences. Perhaps even the grubby 52.1% of non hand washers might feel compelled to do it on occasion if only to avoid the disgusted looks on strangers’ faces. One of Larson’s more well-known cartoons shows a restroom in a café, above which a huge sign is flashing when a man leaves: DID NOT WASH HANDS. Wouldn’t that be good if someone gave up their intensive study on the origins of the Antedeluvian nose flute and instead developed a Unwashed Hands alarm for use in pubs, clubs, restaurants and the home. They’d be Time magazine’s person of the year and Paris Hilton would have shagged them five minutes before the nobel prize giving ceremony.

Lack of such useful inventions notwithstanding, perhaps it is more important to ask: What on earth sort of disgustingly germy activities are people doing before they head to the shops? Apart from, say, eating a leaky toasted egg sandwich, having a leak and then a sly nose pick, what other repulsive ameobic activities are occurring and why the hell don’t any of them feel bad enough to hold their mitts under a tap for a second or two?

Think about it, picture the following scenario.You’re doing your weekly Thursday grocery shop and are wheeling the trolley around the fresh fruit and veg section in a familiar daze. Your hand leaves the trolley to pick through the grapes, carrots, apples, pears, broccoli and potatoes you want before placing them in those stupid plastic bags that are impossible to open at the right end because---- oh, sorry, back to the shopping scene. Your innocent selection of produce has resulted in a seamless transference of those pesky little colony forming units of bacteria all over your food, as well as your own hands. Whilst down the tinned food aisle, you sneeze – achoo! – into your tissue. After a thorough wipe because, hey, you might as well get it all out, you shove the tissue into your pocket and keep on wheeling until you throw in a tin of baked beans and several tinned peeled tomatoes.

Several minutes later, the smell of fresh coffee beans surrounds you and you wait for the old Italian guy to finish grinding his up so that you can try the new Brazilian mocha on sale. The scoop is there, but half the beans filter through your hands as you try to fill up the grinder. Those little CFU bacterial buggers are loving it. After paying for your load, you keep hold of the trolley whilst visiting a few other shops on the way back to your car. A loaf of fresh bread, only half-wrapped in greaseproof paper, the rest of it cradled in your hands; some deli yoghurt that you couldn’t help dipping your finger into for a wee taste as you left the store and the enjoyment of the free slice of pecorino you were handed with your order of proscuitto.

But out there in public consumer land, you’ve long forgotten about this article, haven’t you? You unload your groceries, wheel your trolley back to the bay and see the local 106 bus trundle past, packed with office workers. “Poor bastards,” you think smugly to yourself, “I’m glad that’s not me, crammed into a hot bus with a load of fungal feet and sweaty armpits.” Another sneeze turns up – atchooo! – just as you’re fumbling for the keys. This time you rub three fingers under your dripping nose and wipe the moistness down your pants. Then you touch the car door handle, still thinking, “Geez, and to think of the germs on public transport, yuk! Now, I wonder if I’ve got time to visit the Cyber Café before my next meeting?”


Anonymous said...

love your profile pic

Anonymous said...

Rubber gloves dear, rubber gloves! Whenever I go to Safeways I carry a small amount of kerosine in an old ajax spray bottle, I squirt the trolley handles before I touch them (likewise the lift buttons in the High Rise)

Anonymous said...

C'mon, there are germs everywhere!
Say in the soil, in you gut etc.