Don’t Make These Health Mistakes While Out In Public

You can have the healthiest morning routine in the world, but once you step outside, you’re at risk of getting sick. Common objects, from restaurant lemon water to your own cellphone, are often coated with germs. The worst part is that many people make frequent mistakes that only spread illness.

Whether you’re at work, a public restroom, or your local cafe, don’t make these public health mistakes. You could easily contract a disease like strep from touching some germ-infested everyday objects. Avoid the most common health mistakes with these tips.

Quit Rubbing Your Eyes

People instinctively rub their eyes when they’re tired or feel irritation. If you can prevent it, don’t rub your eyes out in public. According to the Vision Eye Institute, rubbing your eyes quickly spreads germs across your face. These germs can enter your body through your eyes, ears, nose, or mouth, causing you to get sick.

NASCAR driver Jimmie Johnson rubs his eyes
Stan Grossfeld/The Boston Globe via Getty Images
Stan Grossfeld/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Rubbing your eyes can also break blood vessels. If you rub your eyes enough, you could develop blood-shot eyes and dark circles. Try to wash your hands before touching your face, or rub your face with a fresh tissue.

How Often Are You Washing Your Hands?

In an ideal world, everyone washes their hands after using the restroom. But this is not the reality. A study by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) demonstrated that only 65% of women and 31% of men wash their hands after using a public restroom. This spreads fecal bacteria that can spread strep and digestive diseases.

Boy washes his hands in a public restroom.
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But that’s not the only time you should wash your hands. The CDC recommends washing your hands before eating, after blowing your nose, and after handling pets or garbage. If you’re sick, take extra care to wash your hands in public.

Don’t Hurry While Washing Your Hands

Even if you wash your hands out in public, you may not do it correctly. A study from the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that 97% of people don’t wash their hands effectively. In particular, most people rush through it, which could contaminate food and work surfaces.

Close-up photograph of a patient washing their hands after receiving a smallpox vaccine
Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images
Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

According to the Center for Disease Control, you should wet your hands before receiving soap. After you lather, scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. If you need a timer, sing “Happy Birthday” before finishing. Dry your hands with a clean towel.

Where Are You Taking Your Laptop?

Do you take your laptop to eat at a cafe or coffee shop? If so, you might want to rethink pairing your computer with food. Research in 2016 revealed that a laptop keyboard is 20,000 times dirtier than a toilet seat and has 162 times more bacteria than money. One of these bacteria includes positive cocci, often found in pneumonia.

An Apple MacBook Air laptop computer is on the table of a coffee shop
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If you clean your laptop regularly, you can browse the internet and eat without worry. You can remove dust with a can of compressed air. To disinfect the keyboard, you can rub a mixture of soap and warm water or using rubbing alcohol.

Try To Not Sit All Day

Whether you’re at work or out at the movies, you may be sitting most of the time. In 2012, a study suggested that if Americans reduced sitting time by three hours every day, it’ll lengthen their life by two years. This is backed up by the American Cancer Society, who noted that sitting more than six hours a day raises the risk of early death by 37%.

Times-Call community reporter Isa Jones works at her desk
Lewis Geyer/Digital First Media/Boulder Daily Camera via Getty Images
Lewis Geyer/Digital First Media/Boulder Daily Camera via Getty Images

If you have a standing desk, make an effort to stand for ten minutes every hour. Otherwise, take a brisk walk every hour. The Center for Disease Control recorded that when study participants stood more often, 87% felt energized, 75% felt healthier, and 62% felt happier.

If You Order Lemon Water At Restaurants, Think Again

Although lemon water is a common restaurant drink, many employees don’t take proper care of their lemons. According to 2017 research from the Journal of Environmental Health, 70% of restaurant lemons contain bacteria, viruses, and other microbes. Investigators from ABC reported the restaurant employees often grabbed lemons without gloves or tongs and left the fruit out in the open.

Two Glasses Of Water with Lemon Slice. (Photo by: A&G Reporter/AGF/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
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Microbiologist Philip Tierno, who led the investigation, says that most peoples’ immune systems can safely handle lemon water, but not everyone. To stay safe, you can order water without lemon. Or, you can squeeze the juice into your water and place the wedge aside.

Be Careful Where You Put Your Phone

Since many of us carry our phones into restrooms, stores, and restaurants, smartphones quickly turn into germ hives. According to a 2011 study, one in six phones have fecal matter on the surface. Many other phones have infectious pathogens such as Streptococcus and E. Coli.

A woman uses an Apple iPhone at a shopping mall

To limit the number of germs on your phone, don’t use it while in the bathroom. You may not want to press your smartphone to your face or mouth during a call. Apple advises against using liquid disinfectants. Instead, combine water and rubbing alcohol and spread it over your smartphone with a cloth.

Cover Your Mouth When You Sneeze Or Cough

When you cough or sneeze, you’re releasing germs into the air. For decades, most people thought that these germs traveled only a few feet. But 2017 research from MIT concluded that germs fly 200x farther than we originally thought. An average sneeze sends germs at least six feet in front of a person.

A close-up view of a woman sneezing.
David Jones/PA Images via Getty Images
David Jones/PA Images via Getty Images

With that high amount of germs, you don’t want to cough or sneeze into your hand. Instead, use your upper sleeve or the inside of your elbow. You’ll prevent other people (and potentially your food) from becoming infected.

Beware Of Office Coffee Pots And Mugs

Office coffee machines are quite dirty. According to a 2015 study in Scientific Reports, breakroom coffee machines have anywhere from 35 to 67 different kinds of bacteria. Office mugs aren’t much better. Researchers from the University of Arizona concluded that 90% of office cups are coated in germs, most likely from the sponge.

A female employee uses a Cafe Coffee Day coffee machine in a private office
Nasir Kachroo/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Nasir Kachroo/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Oddly enough, the coffee from office machines is perfectly fine. Most coffee machines have germ-covered filters and wasted capsules, so your morning drink is bacteria-free. However, you may want to use a disposable cup and make sure that your office coffee pot is regularly cleaned.

Don’t “Tough It Out” At Work

While they feel sick, many people decide to “power through” their illness and go to work anyway. But for the sake of your health and your coworkers, stay at home. According to a 2013 study, working while sick increases the likelihood of sick coworkers by 40%.

Female patient blows her nose at a doctor's office.
BSIP/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
BSIP/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

According to a 2015 U.K. survey, there are two reasons why people go to work sick: lack of sick days and a stigma against missing work. Cases of working while sick have tripled in the last decade, according to another 2018 survey. Don’t put your coworkers and yourself at risk.

Disinfect Your Shopping Cart

Shopping carts are dirtier than most people think. In 2018, the University of Arizona researchers reported that 72% of shopping carts fester Salmonella, E. Coli, and fecal matter. Microbiologist Dr. Jeffrey Hobden says that public restrooms are cleaner than shopping cart handles because restrooms are cleaned regularly.

A customer pushes a shopping cart at the Perekrestok grocery store
Anton NovoderezhkinTASS via Getty Images
Anton NovoderezhkinTASS via Getty Images

Fortunately, many grocery stores offer antibiotic wipes in front of their stores. In case they don’t, you may want to carry a portable case of wet wipes. Clean the handle, wait 20 seconds for it to dry, and you’ll be safe to shop.

If You Can Help It, Don’t Touch Your Face

Touching your face spreads bacteria and illness-causing bugs, according to dermatologist Ava Shamban. When you rub your face or place your chin in your hand, you rub around oils that make your face greasier. Not only will this cause acne, but it could potentially spread diseases if you haven’t washed your hands.

President of a French magazine rests his head in his hand.
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MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP via Getty Images

If you have to touch your face, wash your hands first. You can also carry hand sanitizer around. Although it may not work as well as a 20-second hand washing, it’ll still kill germs and lower your chances of getting sick.

Clean Your Work Desk, Or You’ll Get Sick

According to a 2018 study, your work desk has 400x more germs than a toilet seat. The average desktop has 20,961 germs per square inch, while a work phone has 25,127 per square inch. These bugs include H. Pylori, E. Coli, and Staph. To make matters worse, one in ten employees never clean their desks.

Woman wipes down a work desk with disinfectant wipes.

Don’t be the one in ten. Aim to sanitize your workspace once a week, or more if you or your neighbor don’t feel well. Wipe down the computer, keyboard, phone, and door handles with an antibacterial spray or wipe.

The “Five Second Rule” Doesn’t Work

Urban legend states that if you drop food on the floor and pick it up within five seconds, it’ll be safe to eat. Paul Dawson, a food scientist at Clemson University, tested this theory. His research team found that five seconds is plenty of time for bacteria to contaminate food.

Boy drops an apple and sandwich out of an open lunch box.
© William Gottlieb/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images
© William Gottlieb/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

Leaving your food on the floor for longer puts you at higher risk, according to a peer-reviewed study. Your health risk depends on the bacteria on the floor and the food you drop. To stay safe, don’t eat food that you drop on the floor.

Avoid Using Makeup Testers

In 2017, a woman sued Sephora after contracting oral herpes from a lipstick tester. And this isn’t the only case. During a 2005 study, researchers found that 67% to 100% of makeup testers contained bacteria such as strep, staph, and E. Coli.

An Iranian woman tries on a lipstick at a cosmetics shop
ATTA KENARE/AFP via Getty Images
ATTA KENARE/AFP via Getty Images

Avoid putting makeup testers on your face. If you want to try a product, swipe it on your hand and wash it off afterward. Professional makeup artist Lorin Cole recommends washing product containers when you get home, especially brushes. She washes her new brushes with dish detergent and alcohol spray.

Why Eating Alone Hurts

Eating alone at least twice a day doubles your risk of heart disease and metabolic syndrome, according to a 2017 study in Obesity Research & Clinical Practice. Researchers believe that eating alone increases someone’s tendency to binge eat. Feeling socially isolated may contribute to that.

Crystal Reed is seen eating at a cafe
gotpap/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images
gotpap/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images

Neurobiologist Stephanie Cacioppo says that your mood while eating makes all the difference. If you prefer to eat alone, you may do so without reverse effects. But it may benefit you to eat with your coworkers or friends once in a while.

Have You Ever Cleaned Your Reusable Bags?

Reusable bags help the environment and allow you to carry supplies anywhere, but when’s the last time you washed yours? During a 2019 study, researchers from the University of Arizona found bacteria on 99% of reusable bags. Only 3% of bag owners said that they washed their bags regularly.

Reusable shopping bags hang by the door
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If you use canvas bags, you can throw them in the wash with the rest of your laundry. The same goes for Nylon bags, which you can also clean with soap and water. For insulated shopping bags, wash them with a disinfecting wipe after each use.

Always Keep Your Produce In Bags

Shopping carts aren’t the only germ-infested surface of supermarkets. According to researchers at the University of Michigan, conveyor belts also harbor mold, yeast, and staph. The belts are made of PVC, a plastic that becomes a breeding ground for germs. They are rarely if ever, cleaned.

Groceries sit on a conveyor belt in the checkout lane.
Indigo/Getty Images
Indigo/Getty Images

When buying produce, always wrap your products in plastic bags. Wash your fruits and vegetables after you get home, and bring hand sanitizer to your grocery store. Overall, remember that grocery stores are public, generally dirty areas.

Beware Of Public Bicycles

Using public bikes, such as Citi Bike, places you at risk for germs. According to a 2017 study by Men’s Health, Citi Bikes had more germs than any other public transport in New York City and even had 45 times the bacteria of a subway pole.

A couple take out Citibikes from a bike-sharing station in the New York City.
Ramin Talaie/Corbis via Getty Images
Ramin Talaie/Corbis via Getty Images

You wouldn’t want to touch food after riding one of those bikes. If you use a public bike, bring some alcohol-based sanitizing wipes. Give the bike a quick clean before mounting and going on your way. After you finish your ride, wash your hands.

Don’t Place Bags On The Bathroom Floor

When you visit a public restroom, you may place your purse or bag on the floor. According to a U.K. study, many purses have fecal matter on them from contacting a bathroom floor. Other potential causes include germ-infested office spaces and grocery carts, and owners not cleaning their bags.

Fashion goers stop by porta-potties
Thos Robinson/Getty Images
Thos Robinson/Getty Images

If you want to lower the risk of disease, place your bags on a hook inside the restroom stall. Microbiologist Charles Gerba, who lead the study, recommends cleaning leather and plastic bags with a disinfectant wipe. Cloth bags can be thrown into the wash.