The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

October 30, 2011

Robin L. Quillon | Reading list of filthiest surfaces makes one nauseous

Robin L. Quillon

— My oldest daughter Candace called the other day and horrifically reported that she’d caught Zoey, her 2-year-old daughter, licking the shopping-cart handle as they were shopping. 

My wife Cindy laughed at the news, but Candace did not think it was funny and was freaking out.

Cindy’s advice of “toddlers will be toddlers” did not sit very well with my daughter.

“How can you think that way, Mom?” Candace asked. 

We chuckled, knowing Candace would witness these acts many more times before Zoey grows to know better. 

We laughed out loud as we reflected on our own evolutionary thinking in terms of germ encounters as we raised our four children.

Examples: We protected our firstborn from all germs at all times. We were militant. If her pacifier hit the ground, we would toss it out and break out a new one. Nothing was too good for our little Candace. We were super parents. 

For our second daughter, when the pacifier hit the ground, we would rush to the sink and let scalding water run over it for several minutes. Satisfied it was now germ free, we’d return it to Molly. We were vigilant parents. 

With our third child, when the pacifier hit the ground we would pick it up, look it over, flick it with a finger and jam it back in Caroline’s mouth.

We were experienced parents.

For our fourth child, when the pacifier hit the ground, we trained the dog to go over, pick it up and put it back in Ty’s mouth.

Just kidding. Actually, we encouraged him to crawl over and get it himself. After all, the exercise was good for him, and the hair and dirt on the pacifier didn’t seem to matter to him. We were seasoned parents.   

As a youngster, I was often told that you had to eat a pound of dirt before you die. I don’t know where that saying came from, but I believe it’s God’s honest truth. 

As I get older, I’m getting more and more paranoid about germs.

Let’s face it, other people are disgusting.

You know you are getting close to the edge of germ insanity when you refuse to watch the teenagers making your order in a fast-food restaurant.

I suppose what you don’t know won’t hurt you. Lord, I hope so. 

However, after reading a report from Reuters the other day, I have come to the conclusion that eating a pound of dirt is the least of our worries.  

The report encourages everyone to stop touching the gas pumps – at all costs.

If you have to, wear gloves. If you have no gloves, don’t touch your face and sanitize your hands as soon as possible.

Reuters’ report states that a gas-pump handle is one of the filthiest surfaces we will encounter.

They reported that hygienists swabbed hundreds of surfaces in six U.S. cities to see what everyday objects were breeding grounds for the worst bacteria and viruses.

The top offenders, after gas pumps, were handles on public mailboxes, escalator rails and ATM buttons.

And closely following were parking meters and kiosks, crosswalk buttons and buttons on vending machines in shopping malls.

The hygienists tested for levels of adenosine triphosphate, which signals the presence of animal, vegetable, bacterial, yeast or mold cells, and the high levels that were found suggested these cells can be transmitting illnesses.

The problem is, nobody cleans these touch points regularly. And the report states that germs from people’s hands can transfer seven times before leaving the skin.

While the report did not mention these, paper money and coins have got to rank high in terms of germ transfer.

Money travels all over the world. In fact, there is a website where you can input the serial number of a dollar bill and see exactly where it has been.

Now I am making myself sick.

Zoey will be fine, because she can’t read yet. Her mother, on the other hand, will continue to evolve, if you know what I mean.

Robin L. Quillon is the publisher of The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at


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