It’s a quick and easy way to break the ice in the office, but making a cup of tea or coffee for your colleagues could risk making yourself or others ill, according to Liverpool researchers.
Shared kitchen areas from a range of different job sectors were swabbed with microbiologists, with specific areas and items tested including fridge door handles, kettles, buttons on a microwave and coffee machines.
On all of these but the kettle, the bugs E.coli and Pseudomonas – which can cause gastrointestinal and respiratory infections respectively– were discovered, while almost all 11 kitchen items examined came back positive for Klebsiella, a microbe commonly found in our intestines and spread through faeces.
Lead researcher Dr Adam Roberts, of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, said: “Some microbes, if ingested into our bodies, can lead to illness and infection, so the easiest way to help prevent this from happening is to wash our hands regularly, especially after going to the toilet, and before and after eating.
“The results from this study showed communal kitchen areas to be full of various types of bacteria, many of which can be found in faeces.
“This is, of course, an extremely unpleasant thought but one which could indicate that people are simply not washing their hands thoroughly – or at all – after going to the toilet and then going to make themselves a cup of tea or preparing their lunch, for example.”
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The findings have also been considered particularly important for those with weakened immune systems and pre-existing conditions, with the paper coinciding with a campaign from NHS Cheshire and Merseyside to promote good hygiene called Simple Things.
The focus is on four effective public health measures: washing our hands, sanitising surfaces, covering our face when coughing and sneezing, and keeping our distance if we’re feeling unwell.
Thara Raj, Cheshire and Merseyside’s lead director of public health for health protection, added: “Each time we go to work, whatever the setting might be, we are likely to be constantly touching surfaces that contain multiple bacteria. Shared kitchens, which almost every workplace will have, are busy areas with a high footfall, meaning cross-contamination and the associated risk of illness is very likely.
“We can’t avoid touching items like this while at work – and we shouldn’t – but there are simple things that we can do minimise their impact, particularly if you have a pre-existing medical condition or you are visiting loved ones in care homes or in hospitals, for example.”
If that wasn’t bad enough, it turns out taking cake to work is just as problematic, with one expert saying it’s as bad as smoking around others.
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