Chowline: Wash Your Hands When Using Your Smartphone or Tablet While Cooking

I often watch video recipes on my smartphone while cooking. I always wash my hands before I start cooking, but it’s never occurred to me to wash them again each time I touch my phone. Can that make me sick?


I don’t want to totally gross you out, but the average smartphone is 10 times dirtier than a toilet seat.

In fact, the average person touches their smartphone 2,617 times a day, according to a study by dscout, a Chicago-based research firm.

Because people often take their phones with them everywhere, including into the potty, various microbes are transferred when the phones are touched. Some of those microbes can survive for up to 16 months, according to research published in 2006 in BMC Infectious Diseases.

Research has also shown that smartphones and tablets can harbor bacteria such as Streptococcus, Staphylococcus aureus, and even Escherichia coli or E. coli. Staphylococcus aureus is particularly harmful considering it is a bacterium that is growing increasingly impervious to antibiotics and has emerged as a top killer of hospitalized patients, according to researchers at Harvard Medical School.

So, if you are using your phone or tablet to watch cooking demonstrations or look up recipes while cooking, you really should wash your hands each time you touch your device.

“Consumers play an important role in the safety of the food they eat and are the last line of defense for preventing foodborne disease, because safe, in-home preparation and consumption practices can reduce the risk of illness,” according to a food safety study in the Journal of Food Protection.

However, the study found that 40 percent of people say they don’t wash their hands after using a device, like a smartphone or tablet, while cooking.

Another study, co-authored by Sanja Ilic, food safety specialist for Ohio State University Extension in The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES), found that most consumers don’t pay much attention to clean hands between handling exposed foods and touching unsanitary electronic devices, body parts or hair, and surfaces.

That can lead to foodborne illnesses, including norovirus, which causes vomiting and diarrhea, and is the leading cause of foodborne illness outbreaks. It’s estimated that the average person will get norovirus five times during his or her lifetime, according to a report in Food Safety News.

To avoid foodborne illness, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service recommends that you wash your hands with warm, soapy water for 20 seconds:

  • before and after handling food
  • after using the bathroom
  • after changing a diaper
  • after handling pets
  • after sneezing, coughing, or blowing your nose
  • after handling raw eggs, meat, poultry, or fish

And remember to wash your hands each time you touch your smartphone or tablet while cooking!

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, OSU Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or [email protected].

Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

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