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Prairie Fare: Dirty Money Prompts Need to Wash Hands

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Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension Food and Nutrition Specialist Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension Food and Nutrition Specialist
Touching money and then eating a sandwich with unwashed hands is kind of like putting money in your mouth.

By Julie Garden-Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist

NDSU Extension Service

Will he or won’t he? I thought to myself. As I watched the lone food service worker collect money from several patrons, I wondered whether he would wash his hands before preparing our food.

I must have been staring at him because he looked over at me. I probably was making him uncomfortable or irritated, but I think my scrutiny worked.

After collecting money from three patrons, he walked from the cash register to the counter to make our sandwiches. Suddenly he stopped, turned around, walked over to the sink and proceeded to wash his hands.

I was glad. Washing your hands after handling money is a good idea. According to the food safety standards in the food code, food service workers must wash their hands after engaging in any activity that may have contaminated their hands.

I remember being warned not to put money in my mouth as a child. As the saying went, “You don’t know where that money has been.”

Touching money and then eating a sandwich with unwashed hands is kind of like putting money in your mouth. Unless you wash your hands, you could be transferring organisms from the money to your hands to the food.

Just how dirty is money? Is handling money linked to illness? I decided to see what researchers have reported.

I did not find major warnings about money handling being directly related to illness. Some researchers, however, speculated that the potential was there.

U.S. paper currency has some built-in protections. For example, the ink and paper contain fungicidal agents. With use, though, the ability of the money to ward off microorganisms is weakened. Some metals in coins have antimicrobial properties, so that is another protective feature.

Money changes hands, though. Money is handled by numerous people throughout a community and potentially, money can travel around the world in pockets and wallets.

After studying the bacterial levels on currency in their nations, New Zealand and Australian researchers found relatively low bacterial counts on their currency and coins. However, they did detect salmonella, E. coli and staphylococcus.

Although low numbers of bacteria were present, the researchers decided that more study was needed to learn whether the bacteria could be transferred to humans.

U.S. Air Force physicians helped a high school student from Ohio with a science project that examined bacteria on dollar bills. They collected the dollars from people at a concession stand during a high school athletic event and from a grocery store. Then they went to work in a lab to identify bacteria on the money.

They identified 93 types of bacteria on the bills and two out of three dollars had at least one kind of bacteria. Staphylococcus and klebsiella were among the bacteria they identified. Both of these can make you sick.

Should we be worried? We don’t live in a sterile world. Germs are all around us, on surfaces and items we touch. Fortunately for us, one of the easiest ways to protect ourselves from a variety of illnesses is simple: proper hand washing.

Be like the food service worker who is required to wash his hands frequently. Wash your hands often. Lather up for at least 20 seconds. Time yourself and see if you are shortchanging yourself on hand hygiene.

If you’ve washed your hands, you are ready to make yourself a sandwich. Here’s a novel sandwich courtesy of the Wheat Foods Council at www.wheatfoods.org.

Pizza Salad Pita Pockets

3 6-inch whole-wheat pitas

6 leaves romaine lettuce

8 cherry tomatoes, halved (or use chopped tomatoes)

1/2 c. chopped red onion

1 c. sliced mushrooms

1 13.75-ounce can artichoke hearts, packed in water, drained and quartered

1 ounce pepperoni slices, cut in half

1/2 c. pizza sauce

1/4 c. grated low-fat mozzarella cheese

3 Tbsp. red wine vinegar

1/4 tsp. garlic powder

In a medium mixing bowl, stir together the tomatoes, onion, mushrooms, artichoke hearts, pepperoni, pizza sauce, cheese, vinegar and garlic powder. Warm in a microwave oven for about one minute. Cut each pita in half and warm in a microwave about 30 seconds. Stuff each pita with a lettuce leaf and add one-third of the pizza salad. Serve immediately.

Makes three servings. Each serving has about 370 calories, 8 grams (g) of fat, 60 g of carbohydrate and 13 g of fiber.

(Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and associate professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.)


NDSU Agriculture Communication

Source:Julie Garden-Robinson, (701) 231-7187, julie.garden-robinson@ndsu.edu
Editor:Rich Mattern, (701) 231-6136, richard.mattern@ndsu.edu
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