In new stomach-turning news, a gastroenteritis-causing virus could be lurking on restaurant silverware and dishesÃ¢â‚¬”even if theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve been washed, according to a new study published online on PLOS ONE.
To Ã¢â‚¬Å“simulate a worst-case scenario,Ã¢â‚¬Â researchers at the Ohio State University Center for Clinical and Translational Science infused cream cheese and reduced fat milkÃ¢â‚¬”both of which are difficult to properly clean off of tablewareÃ¢â‚¬”with disease-causing murine norovirus (MNV-1), Escherichia coli (E. coli K-12), and Listeria innocua (L. innocua). They then coated ceramic plates, forks, and drinking glasses with the infectious mixture and put them all through either a mechanical wash or a hand wash.
The good news? Both washing methods reduced bacterial cells E. coli and L. innocua enough to meet safety standards, though using a dishwasher was slightly more effective than hand washing. But before you head to your nearest restaurant to celebrate, take note: Norovirus particles survived both washing techniques and were not significantly reduced by either wash method.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Norovirus is the leading cause of about 90% of epidemic gastroenteritis,Ã¢â‚¬Â says Donna Duberg, assistant professor of Clinical Laboratory Science at Saint Louis University. The danger: Ã¢â‚¬Å“Gastroenteritis is a pretty uncomfortable disorderÃ¢â‚¬”it causes nausea, vomiting, and severe diarrhea that lasts for days.Ã¢â‚¬Â Plus, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not easy to get over and is very easily spread, she says.
That said, it isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t necessarily a restaurantÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s fault if norovirus particles remain on tableware. Food itself can act as a barrier, protecting the bacteria and viruses from cleaning products and heat, says Duberg. Also, milk productsÃ¢â‚¬”like the ones used in the studyÃ¢â‚¬”can neutralize cleaning products, making them less effective, she says.
But donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t stress: This doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t mean you should swear off restaurants altogether. Ã¢â‚¬Å“The idea that weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re going to 'kill' things [bacteria and/or viruses] is probably a little far-fetched,Ã¢â‚¬Â says Duberg. Ã¢â‚¬Å“What weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re doing is trying to reduce the number of germs to a level that our bodies can handleÃ¢â‚¬”one we can clear with our defense system.Ã¢â‚¬Â
While we have little control over what a restaurant does behind closed doors, there are a handful of things to consider before you place your order. Here, DubergÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s tips on how to stay as germ-free as possible while dining out.
Follow your nose A restaurant should smell good. Ã¢â‚¬Å“It shouldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t smell dirty or contaminated,Ã¢â‚¬Â she says. Ã¢â‚¬Å“The bathrooms should smell fresh and clean and not have a heavy odor of air fresheners that are covering up dirty odors,Ã¢â‚¬Â Duberg says. So if you smell anything other than the delicious food thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s cooking, it might be time to try a new spot.
Take a look around Any clean establishment will look clean and will have good cleaning habits. Ã¢â‚¬Å“There shouldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t be sticky tables,Ã¢â‚¬Â says Duberg. Ã¢â‚¬Å“ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s where bacteria is going to breed, and where bacteria breed, viruses are right behind them.Ã¢â‚¬Â And take note of the color of the cloths employees use to wipe down the tables. They should be white and clean, and buckets of water should be clear, says Duberg. Also, be aware of whether or not your server or maÃƒÂ®tre dÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ is sniffling or has a runny nose, she suggests.
Inspect the utensils Your silverware and tableware shouldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have remnants of a past meal. Silverware should also come wrapped in clean napkins. Plus, serving utensils shouldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t be transferred from one dishÃ¢â‚¬”and one personÃ¢â‚¬”to another, says Duberg.
Know when to stay in Ã¢â‚¬Å“If your immune system is lowÃ¢â‚¬”if youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re stressed, or had a cold, for exampleÃ¢â‚¬”you can handle less bacteria and viruses effectively,Ã¢â‚¬Â according to Duberg. In this case, you might not want to expose your weakened system to germs that might make you get sick all over again. Plus, you donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t want to be the person responsible for contaminating anyone else, do you?
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