Cell phones have become a near-constant accessory in recent years. People take their phones everywhere — to dinner, to bed, and even to the bathroom. In fact, Americans check their phones around every 12 minutes. Since people bring their cell phones with them everywhere and touch them often, these devices can turn into breeding grounds for bacteria. A recent study found that there is an average of 17,000 bacterial gene copies on a single cell phone.
Many people believe that the bathroom is the dirtiest thing they regularly come into contact with; however, a cell phone can house up to 10 times more bacteria than a toilet seat. While many of the bacteria found on cell phones are harmless, there is a chance that your device could be harboring much more dangerous pathogens. This is especially concerning for those employed in foodservice or healthcare, as pathogens can lead to an illness outbreak.
Often, people bring their phones to many bacteria-prone places, including the bathroom and the kitchen. They are also utilizing these devices everywhere, increasing the risk of transferring germs from one area to another, also known as cross-contamination. In foodservice, this presents a public safety risk.
Though microbes are everywhere, not all are negative or dangerous. Normally, bacteria are transferred onto cell phones from cheeks and ears as well as naturally-occurring oils in fingers. While many types of bacteria are nothing to worry about, there are some harmful pathogens that may be passed onto the surface of a cell phone from coughing on the phone or from touching a phone with contaminated hands.
Surfaces including subway poles, toilets, sinks, and desks carry germs, which then are picked up by the hands that touch them. The British Columbia Center for Disease Control states that 80% of all infections are transmitted by hands. The bacteria are then easily transferred to mobile devices, which are handled often throughout the day. The most common, harmful bacteria found on cell phones are:
Although the infectious dose of pathogens varies, it is still important that they don’t enter your system. Also, once a person is infected, pathogens can spread from one person to another by sharing a phone. For instance, if a person was sick and coughed onto their phone while speaking on it, then handed it to someone else to use, the second person could be exposed.
Microbial growth is at its prime in warmer temperatures. The increase in temperature will help increase enzyme activity, while a lower temperature will decrease activity. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, bacteria grows rapidly between 40 degrees and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Many restaurants are aware of this “danger zone” and work to keep their refrigeration units running optimally to avoid foodborne illnesses that could negatively impact their bottom line.
However, there are other places where bacteria can grow, such as bathrooms or pant pockets. This is why it is important for everyone, especially restaurant employees, to wash their hands regularly and to avoid bringing their phones with them to the bathroom.
Though some people are diligent about washing their hands, they often don’t think to wash or disinfect other items they touch daily, such as cell phones. These devices are sometimes handled by unwashed hands, which can lead to the transfer of bacteria. This means that transmission and infection can occur, especially with touch screens. The Journal of Applied Microbiology found that the highest bacterial transfer rates were seen with hard, non-porous surfaces — exactly like those on mobile devices.
This is extremely important to note, especially for those working in the foodservice industry, because they are responsible for the health of their patrons as well as the cleanliness of their restaurant. It is common for kitchen teams to use their phones for daily tasks, such as setting timers, listening to music, or researching recipes — but this also means that their phones could be leading to cross-contamination of hands, which in turn contaminate food.
Every restaurant should have a clear mobile phone policy in the kitchen. If phone use is tolerated, cell phones should be included in and subjected to the same daily cleaning and sanitation standards as other kitchen equipment. The proper use of cleaners and disinfectants is of the utmost importance. This can help lessen the spread of different bacteria in both commercial and home environments. Be sure to follow manufacturers’ guidelines when cleaning electronic devices.
It’s also important to note that there are different levels of cleaning:
Generally surface sanitizing is reserved for food contact surfaces while disinfecting applies to non-food contact surfaces, such as handrails, doorknobs, and other high-touch surfaces.
Washing your hands is essential for proper hygiene and sanitation. Keeping your hands clean is especially important during the cold and flu season, a time when germs spread rapidly and easily. The FDA recommends washing hands during key times like:
Since a cell phone can harbor many germs, pathogens, and bacteria on its surface, it is important to restrict the use of cell phones in certain areas. These places include:
Instead of using cell phones in these places, make sure to put them somewhere safe and tucked away, and be sure to clean and disinfect your phone often.
Cell phones can spread a variety of germs quickly and easily; however, by utilizing cleaning tools and sticking to a cleaning and disinfecting schedule, people can reduce the chance for cross-contamination and slow the spread of dangerous diseases.