Office tea drinkers, you might want to sit down before you read on, because there's something pretty upsetting going on with your tea bags. But it's not just your office tea bags; it's kitchen utensils and appliances across the spectrum that are covered with way more germs than you'd think, and once this can of hygienic worms gets opened, you're going to look around your office space and seriously wonder just how many germs are in a kitchen. Spoiler: There are way more than you probably think.
A recent study conducted by the UK-based company Initial Washroom Hygiene on general hygiene in office spaces basically confirmed all of your worst fears: Your office kitchen is basically less hygienic than your bathroom.
The study checked the bacterial levels of standard and common office appliances like tea bag boxes, refrigerator door handles, used mugs, hot water taps, and the kitchen countertop. To put it lightly, the results were less than ideal, showing that boxes of workplace tea bags may contain as many as 17 times more bacteria than a toilet seat, on average.
The next time you get a craving for a hot cup of tea at work, just remember that you may basically be licking a toilet seat.
But it wasn't just boxes of tea bags that were filled with bacteria, according to the study. A kettle handle holds 12 times as much bacteria as a toilet seat. A fridge door holds eight times as much, and a countertop holds five times as much. The moral of the story? Your co-workers are nasty humans who need to shower more often and maybe keep their hands to themselves.
OK, fine, that's not necessarily a fair assumption to make, but there is a grain of truth in that statement. A poll of 1,000 office workers revealed that most people have dirtier hands than you'd like to know.
Specifically, 80 percent of office workers in said poll apparently don't wash their hands before making drinks for others.
So, now you basically have the right to go buy that adorable, travel coffee mug you've been eyeing at the local cafe, because sharing used mugs is about as nasty as it can get.
Beyond the basic "ew" factor of finding out you're inadvertently touching other people's bacteria all the time, it's important to recognize the literal health risk that can occur when people display poor hygiene in public places.
When we exhibit poor hygiene, we increase the likelihood of cross contamination (aka getting all our germs on those tea bag boxes), which in turn increases the likelihood of spreading colds and viruses.
With that said, there's no need to panic, or to even start deep cleaning your office common spaces every morning at dawn.
There are a few ways you can practice good hygiene in the workplace without totally abstaining from any common area.
First, you can keep some antibacterial gel or wipes at your desk, and use those once or twice a day, especially if you're the type of person who uses office dishes and mugs on a daily basis. Another thing you can do is try to eat outside of the office so that you're not having lunch in a heavily contaminated area. Mind you, this doesn't mean you have to buy lunch every day. Consider eating at an outdoor seated area or on a bench, where you're less likely to be touching multiple surfaces while you're eating. Of course, there are definitely going to be germs and bacteria on the loose in all these other locations too, but hey, you pick your poison.
There's likely no way to completely avoid common areas in your office, but it's certainly possible to encourage good hygiene practices among your co-workers. Ask your HR person if you can switch out sponges and dish towels more often, for example, and it could make a huge difference.
For now, though, maybe it's for the best if you just avoid those tea bags altogether.