7 dirty food habits: Are they gross, or ok?

Clemson University is out with their annual survey on the most disgusting food habits, and chances are, you’re guilty of doing one of them—- even if you didn’t realize how gross it really is.

Clemson researcher Paul Dawson, a food scientist at Clemson, has studied food habits for 30 years to try and understand how bacteria is spread. Most of the habits cited in the 2017 study won’t kill you, but they can definitely increase the chances of picking up someone else’s bacteria.

Here’s a breakdown of what the study revealed—and whether the habits are gross or ok to do, according to Dr. Shilpi Agarwai:

1.  Double dipping: Gross
Dawson and his team put chips in three types of dip with different pH levels and consistencies: salsa, chocolate syrup and queso. When chips were dipped once, no bacteria was found. But when there was double dipping going on, the bacteria populations in the dip were much higher. The type of dip also mattered. Salsa that had been double-dipped had five times more bacteria than the chocolate and cheese—probably because they’re more likely to stay on a chip than to fall back into the bowl.

2.  The five-second rule: It depends...
You drop something on the floor, and invoke the five-second rule. What’s the worst that could happen to food on the floor in just five seconds? Well, for the study, Dawson and his team spread salmonella bacteria on tile, carpet and wood and then dropped bologna or bread on the floor for 5, 30 or 60 seconds. They also repeated this process after the bacteria had been on the surface for 2, 4 8 and 24 hours. The results? Five seconds is enough for bacteria to get on your food—but how much depends on the surface and if the food is wet or dry—and how long it’s been there. You might be ok at home if you’re picking up something that’s dry, but if you’re outside the house-- don’t do it.

3.  Blowing out birthday candles: Gross
Make a wish, but don’t blow! The study showed that when candles are blown out, there was 1,400% MORE bacteria on the frosting than there is if the candles aren’t blown out. This is mostly a problem if kids are sick, or if it’s flu season. Dr. Shilpi recommends a smaller cupcake for little kids so fewer germs are shared, and you should avoid blowing out the candles if kids are very young or sick.

4.  Beer pong: Gross
You might want to think again before sipping out of that Solo cup during your next beer pong game. The study found that there’s more bacteria in the beer when the game is played outside instead of inside— but nearly all of the bacteria on the pingpong balls transferred directly into the beer. That said, we know this one isn't going anywhere for college kids... but the rest of you might want to reconsider... 

5.  Sharing popcorn: It's ok!
Why get your own popcorn when you can share with your friend? For the study, noninfectious E. coli was spread on people’s hands—and then researchers measured how much of it was transferred to the popcorn and kernels they touched in the bowl. The rate of transfer was extremely low, so sharing popcorn is safe to do.

6.  Precut restaurant lemon in your water: Gross
This might seem like a good idea, but consider this: Lemons are often precut and left on the restaurant’s bar for hours—at room temperature. Restaurants leave out lemons for you to add to water, but they are extremely filthy! In the study, 100 percent of bacteria was transferred to wet lemons, while only 30 percent was transferred to dry lemons. The lesson? Avoid the bucket with the soaking lemons.

7. Handling a restaurant menu: It's ok!
You can’t avoid it—but will touching a restaurant menu get you sick? The study found some bacteria did transfer from menus, but the amounts weren’t huge. You might want to sanitize your hands after touching the menu before you eat.

The bottom line: Bacteria is everywhere, but some of it is worse for you than the rest. Try to minimize your intake, wash your hands often, and provide individual portions whenever possible.

For more on Dr. Shilpi, click here for a link to her website.