With so much to fear in life, who would suspect that the unassuming-looking pepper shaker sitting on every restaurant table is a haven for germs?
The fact is that the pepper shaker, along with the salt shaker, Parmesan cheese dispenser, and napkin holder, may be laden with germs. It can be so much a part of the backdrop of the table that it can cease to register with restaurant patrons and workers alike.
Here are several reasons you may want to skip peppering your food in a restaurant:
6. Sticky Fingers
Germs love to adhere to sticky surfaces. And what could be stickier than the very condiment containers hungry patrons use to season their food mid-meal? Additionally, the containers on the tables may also provide a distraction for small toddlers while their parents try to enjoy a quiet meal away from home. Just the thought of a drooling toddler playing with the shakers should be enough to keep you from grabbing that pepper bottle, or at the very least, first giving it a swipe with antiseptic from your purse or pocket.
5. Busy Busboys
While all restaurants have cleanliness guidelines and do their best to keep the tables presentable and sanitary for their patrons, they are often pressured to turn tables around quickly between guests. Busy busboys do their best to give the table a quick swipe with a cloth to remove any food particles, water puddles, and obvious messes. But a busy restaurant at dinner hour may leave personnel unable to spend any time on deep cleaning. Often, waitstaff use dishcloths they keep in their pockets or attached to their belts. And that is just the tabletops; they may not find the time to give the condiments even a cursory swipe.
4. Less Than Sterile Dish Cloths
At home, you may be careful to wash down countertops, tabletops, utensils, and tabletop condiment holders with hot soapy water. You may even spray them down with a bacterial spray before cleaning. You probably do not use a bucket of dirty-looking water and a grimy dish towel. Restaurants make use of dish cloths dipped into buckets of disinfectant, but sometimes those dish cloths and the buckets of solution appear dirty. The same attention to detail that you provide in your own home just may not be present in the busy restaurant environment.
3. Microbes Galore
A report by ABC News states that tabletop condiments, such as the pepper shaker, can have a bacterial count as high as 11,600 microbes. This is even higher than restaurant toilets. Restaurant workers are well aware of the cleaning requirements and hygiene regulations of public restrooms, but the sanitation of tabletop condiments is apparently not on the forefront of their minds. Germs that may be found on restaurant items can include aerobic bacteria, coliform bacteria, and E. coli. These are bacteria that are found in fecal matter and can cause diarrhea and vomiting.
2. Not Just the Pepper
We have been focusing on the pepper shaker, due to the fact that the study by researchers at the University of Arizona found them to be second in bacterial count only to restaurant menus. However, it may be wise to maintain a healthy fear, or at least caution, around restaurant ketchup bottles, cafeteria trays, and those little dishes of packaged jellies and jams. Sticky syrup bottles presented with pancakes and waffles make another gummy haven for germs, as do the bottles of soy sauce at your favorite sushi restaurant.
1. What to Do
If you just can’t resist the savory, spicy flavor of black pepper on your dishes, feel free to ask your server to have the restaurant chef sprinkle extra pepper onto your food. Some restaurant servers will grind pepper onto your salad at the table, which at least means you won’t have to touch the pepper grinder. If all else fails, pack along some disinfectant wipes and give the bottles at your table a good wipe-down before using. At the very least, pick up the pepper shaker with a napkin, not your bare hands.