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Prairie Fare: Workplace Phones and Desks are Germy Spots

We can take steps to stay healthy by keeping our work environments a little cleaner.

By Julie Garden-Robinson, Nutrition Specialist

NDSU Extension Service

The other day a reporter from another state e-mailed and asked if I would do an interview. We set up a time to talk about germs in the workplace.

I looked up some research so I would be prepared. I’m glad she didn’t have a Web camera or I would have needed to clean my office, too.

As I looked around my desk during the interview, I noted that my desk wouldn’t pass the “white glove” test. I have stacks of paper and journals collecting dust. While I don’t eat lunch at my desk, I noted some cups that needed washing.

Microbiologist Chuck Gerba from the University of Arizona has studied bacteria and the workplace. He and his research team swabbed at least 12 areas per office in New York, San Francisco, Tucson and Tampa to detect the areas with the most germs.

The researchers sent the 7,000 samples back to their university for analysis. Their tests could detect the presence of many types of bacteria, including harmful ones, such as staph, E. coli and salmonella.

These were the five “germiest” spots in the offices: telephones, desktops, water fountain handles, microwave door handles and computer keyboards. On average, the desktops had more bacteria than the toilet seats.

Women and men differed in the germ factor, too. Women’s phones, keyboards, computer mice and pens were bacteria hotspots, while men had more bacteria-laden desks.

The team compared whether using chlorine-based disinfecting wipes made a difference. Office workers who wiped their desks and other surfaces daily with the disinfecting wipes cut out more than 99 percent of the bacteria.

What can we learn from this research? People spend a lot of time in their offices, both at home and work. We can take steps to stay healthy by keeping our work environments a little cleaner.

  • Sanitize desktops with disposable wipes or spray-on cleaner/sanitizers and paper towels, particularly if you regularly eat at your desk. Clean off your phone, mouse and other surfaces, too.
  • Do more than casually rinse your water glass or coffee mug before fueling up in the morning. Use hot, soapy water to wash and hot water to rinse.
  • If you eat at your desk, consider laying out a paper towel. Crumbs can fall on desktops, and desktops are bacteria hotspots.
  • Wash your hands before you eat or enjoy a snack. If you don’t have time to wash, consider keeping an alcohol-based hand sanitizer at your desk.

Here’s a tasty lunch idea from the Pennsylvania Nutrition Education Program. Include a freezer pack in your insulated lunch bag to keep it cold if your office doesn’t have a refrigerator. For more information about food safety and lots of healthy recipes, visit our Web site at http://www.ag.ndsu.edu/food.

Apple Tuna Sandwiches

1 6.5-ounce can tuna, packed in water

1 medium apple

1/4 c. low-fat vanilla yogurt

1 tsp. mustard

1 tsp. honey

6 slices whole-wheat bread

3 lettuce leaves

Wash and chop the apple (peel if desired). Drain tuna and place in a bowl. Add apple, yogurt, mustard and honey and mix carefully. Spread the tuna mixture onto three slices of bread. Top with a washed lettuce leaf and a slice of bread.

Makes three sandwiches. Each sandwich has 250 calories, 3 grams (g) of fat, 37 g of carbohydrate and 5 g of fiber.

(Julie Garden-Robinson is a food and nutrition specialist and associate professor with the NDSU Extension Service, Fargo.)

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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