I’m no germaphobe, but sometimes at a restaurant I’ll start to reach for the ketchup bottle for my fries or the chili paste container for my pho and pause mid-air. I stop briefly, taking in the full sticky-crusty nature of the communal condiments. I use them anyway—then go wash my hands.
But Food Safety News warns there is an even grosser germ culprit, and servers are bringing it right to your table: screens. Whether customers are looking at a menu on an iPad or not, servers are using and sharing more screens than ever, Food Safety News says. They’re veritable petri dish-like germ swamps: “Scientists have found that the average cell phone is 10 times dirtier than a toilet seat. Major pathogens, like streptococcus, MRSA, and E. coli have routinely been found on electronic screens,” the article reads. A phone is covered in 25,107 bacteria per square inch—imagine what that means for an iPad customers and staff share all day.
Restaurants’ adoption of screen technology like point-of-sale systems, digital menus, and hand-held credit-card processing machines means more opportunities for germs to hang out near our tables. (The article also mentions that employees likely take their cell phones into the restrooms, then touch them later during breaks. Thanks, I’d never thought about this before.) Why do restaurants even use iPads? Efficiency, accuracy, looking like they’re hip with the times, maybe. But I’d like to argue that efficiency point, since the glass of wine I order at the airport via iPad always seems to take about 40 minutes to arrive.
Food Safety News suggests that, duh, restaurants wipe down and sanitize screens just like they would kitchen utensils. Diluted rubbing alcohol, Windex, and microfiber wipes should be on hand and part of a system for thoroughly cleaning electronics—and napkin dispensers, condiments, etc. But customers should also remember the advice you’ve been hearing since you were old enough to stand: Wash your hands before you eat.