Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Filthy Drivers.

Yes, drivers, it's your turn to be condemned as filthy disease-carriers.

Apparently eating in your car is going to make you die of a horrible bacterial infection. There are all kinds of nasties in there. Here's what the technical terms really mean.

Scientists testing swabs taken from a typical family car discovered bacteria bacillus cereus and staphylococcus in the interior, including the steering wheel, gear stick and door handles.

Bacillus cereus is a common bacterium found in soil. It can cause food poisoning if it's in your food but unless you routinely wipe your dinner on your garden (or your car) I wouldn't worry about it. You're much more at risk of this from dodgy food outlets.

Staphylococus aureus is not MRSA. MRSA is methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus and that started in, and is still mostly found in, grubby hospitals. It's a subset of the normal bacterium - which can cause problems if it gets into you, anything from boils to septicaemia, but unless you wipe everyone's nose with your bacon sandwich before eating it, there's not much to worry about. The non-MRSA type is commonly found living on humans, especially up noses, and you can go your whole life without it causing you any trouble at all.

Finding these in car interiors is no surprise. Not finding them would be a surprise. It would mean you must be treating the interior of your car daily with high pressure steam and bleach, washing your hands and taking off your shoes every time you get in. But let's not allow that to get in the way of a good scare story.

Dr Anthony Hilton, reader in microbiology at Aston University said: 'Although many strains of bacteria are harmless, some can cause unpleasant illnesses.

Reality time. Forget the kindergarten-level microbiology in the above statement. Almost all bacteria are harmless. Some are essential to human, animal and plant life. Very few are dangerous, it's just that they are the only ones you hear about. Avoiding all chance of catching something is impossible, but simple steps are enough to reduce the risk to minimal. How do you imagine humanity survived the Stone Age when the best thing available was to rinse your eating implements in a sheep-shit-ridden stream? We aren't that delicate.

'People would be horrified at the prospect of eating from a toilet seat however they ought to be aware that eating from a contaminated car dashboard may represent the same health hazards.

Really? I don't know what drivers get up to in their cars now, nor what new features have been added, but I don't recall dashboards having enough space to fit a flush. Do you really do that on the dashboard these days? Disgusting.

I don't eat off the toilet seat. I don't eat off the floor. I don't even eat off the table.

I use a plate. Unless it's a bag of chips, in which case I have paper between the food and the supporting surface. Unless you line your chips up along the dashboard before eating them, they shouldn't come in contact with it.

More from Paris - sorry, Anthony Hilton:

'It is important, particularly now the weather is becoming warmer, for people to ensure that do not leave food debris in their cars as bacteria such as Staphylococcus and Bacillus Cereus can thrive on even tiny crumbs. Also if you have animals in your car they can contribute to the presence of harmful micro-organisms.'

Do you really eat your dinner off a dog-hair covered seat? If you do, you deserve all you get. Look, bacteria are all over you, right now. They fill your guts and every orifice and they coat your skin. They are on the keyboard you are using and they dance in the fridge when the door is closed. That fridge light doesn't go off when you close the door. Bacteria have rewired it to strobe. There are millions of them in every handful of dirt including the dirt in your potted plants. If you are going to waste time worrying about bacteria, get yourself laminated and bathe in Dettol. Cook everything in a pressure cooker on full belt for 15 minutes every time. It's the only way to be sure. You'll still die, you know.

Bacteria need water. More than warmth, they need water. Hot weather is not good for them. Dry dirt is not to their liking. A shrivelled bit of bread under the driver's seat won't support them. The heat reached inside a car in the summer sun will stop most of them and even kill many of them. Dessicated substrates won't support bacteria although some moulds can deal with that. You are at far greater risk with a leaky car that has damp carpets than you are with a lost chip that drops behind the handbrake. Even then, you are only at risk if you're a carpet-licker and we already have too many of those anyway.

Dr Hilton, a member of the Society for Applied Microbiology warned: 'Those who eat in their cars should treat it as an extension of their home and maintain the same levels of hygiene as they would in their dining room.'

I'm also a member of that society. It's not an exclusive club. You just need to be a microbiologist and pay the fees. Membership does not make you an expert. Quoting it here is irrelevant, other than to impress anyone who doesn't know that it's really just another scientist's club.

You know, I suspect people who eat in their cars would be likely to have the food in something rather than spread over the seats and dashboard. Just as they do at home. Unless their home eating habits involve dumping the food straight on the table to save on washing-up.

I have a very nice wooden dining table. I am not going to apply harsh disinfectants to it and there is no need. I don't eat from that surface. The plates I use are clean but not sterilised. I don't use bleach when washing up and I don't soak them in industrial disinfectants overnight. There's no need. You are going to swallow bacteria when you eat. As long as what you eat isn't rancid or contaminated, it's not a problem. Sterilising the eating surface won't help with that anyway.

As for dropped food - do you eat food you've dropped, at home or in the car? Depends what it lands on, doesn't it? If it landed in the mud from your shoes or a pile of dog hair, you'd most likely not eat it. Unless you're starving and if you're at that level of starving, you can't afford a car. Or a house. Or, apart from rarely, a bag of chips.

Nobody who owns a car is ever hungry enough to eat a dried-up chip that's been under the seat for a week and if you don't eat it, you won't get food poisoning from it.

It's all just another 'get the driver' story. Your car is a mobile bioweapon now. Everywhere you go, children will fall dead in your wake and heaven forbid you ever let your child in the car. That child who eats garden dirt and worms with impunity is highly susceptible to car germs because they are different even though they are the same.

Just like smoke from a cigarette is different to smoke from a bonfire.

Prepare to be taxed or fined because of your travelling health hazard any day now. Be ready to have mechanics refuse to service your car in case of third-hand botulism or second-hand squits. No, the threat isn't real, but have any of them been real lately?

When it comes to punishing the public, reality just gets in the way.


Trooper Thompson said...

Good work. I think we can safely consider the matter dealt with.

"...they dance in the fridge when the door is closed. That fridge light doesn't go off when you close the door. Bacteria have rewired it to strobe."


Amusing Bunni said...

I'm glad I don't own a car or drive.
The dropped food should be ok if you adhere to
the 3 second rule.

Leg-iron said...

Bunni - all it depends on is what it lands in, how hungry you are and how much you have left.

I find most chip shops sell more than I can eat anyway, so a lost chip is no hardship.

Anonymous said...

I wuz walking past a car park the other day feeling a pit peckish like, when I saw a bag of chips discarded on the tarmac. Waste not want not I picked them up and ate them, they were almost lukewarm, almost palatable. I often keep a look out for discarded food and drink
can't afford the fancy prices nowadays.

Mr Wiggerly

Roue le Jour said...

"How do you imagine humanity survived the Stone Age when the best thing available was to rinse your eating implements in a sheep-shit-ridden stream?"

I'm sure I remember reading, in The Cell probably, that it's bacteria in the stream eating the sheep shit that makes it safe to drink?

JuliaM said...

When I read this in the paper, my first thought was 'Who's done this survey?'.

Turned out to be Halfords. Who sell...

...yup, car cleaning equipment! :)

banned said...

Ta for the warning and put down L-I, a cod version of this is sure to turn up in the Telegraph some day soon.
A Mail commenter noticed that the picture shows a jeft hand drive car, probably piss poor Mail editing but the driver is not wearing a seatbelt, Horror!

Anonymous said...

Dr Hilton is way behind: this issue was covered by Aggie and Kim months ago when they held a cleaning clinic and emptied food all over a car interior to impress the dangers of food debris in cars on their horrified audience which appeared not to appreciate that it had so narrowly, so often, escaped death.


PT Barnum said...

Public service you're performing there, Leg-Iron. Any comments on the latest magic washing detergent which kills the scary bacteria left on sheets after they've been washed in ordinary detergent? Is my desire to throw chips at the telly when the ad comes on based on sound scientific scepticism?

Furor Teutonicus said...

I don't understand any of this.

I eat pork two to three months after the "sell by date". I eat raw pork Eyes, lungs, kidneys, liver, brain, tongue, bollox.

I make "Bloody Marys" with pigs blood instead or tomato juice.

I have sixteen pieces of cheese in my fridge that are COVERED in "fur". NO problem, I am nibbling on one RIGHT now, and I have done so for YEARS (NOT the same piece!).

Through ALL this, I have never even had a bad case of the shits.


What is WRONG with people? Have you all got AIDS, or something?

ONE thing, I will not TOUCH milk!

Milk is dangerous. 99% of people that die, have had milk within 24 hours of death!

THAT make milk HOW much more dangerous than tobacco?

HEL! Soldiers survive 3 and 4 tours of Helmland province and come back home!

But milk!!??!!

Thge most poisonous substance in the universe.

Anonymous said...

Mr Teutonicus - Milk, Sulphate and Alby Starvation.

Furor Teutonicus said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Furor Teutonicus said...

Ja, ja. "Anonymous" does not fool any of us "Mr Town end" Number 39 I believe.

Or was it "Dr...."?

Anonymous said...

How long before we are warned about secondary MRSA from drivers eating in dirty cars?

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr Leg-iron

Just when you thought things couldn't get worse...



Sue said...

"Do you really eat your dinner off a dog-hair covered seat?"

You're so funny :)

I hate dog hairs. I freak when I find one on my plate.

I do look forward to reading your blog everyday. It always brings a smile to my face and nice to read sane, sensible ramblings for a change!

microdave said...

Considering I (and the trusty Panda) spend a good proportion of my (our?) time on a variety of farms, I dread to think what "nasties" it carries!

However I don't make a habit of eating directly off the floor - I use a plate, or eat straight from which ever packaging it comes in.

My previous car had some winter barley growing out of the mud encrusted wheel arches. I had to draw a line at sugar beet though, since it stopped the wheels from going round...

English Pensioner said...

I blame Mrs E.P. We had an agreement, I clean the outside of the car, she does the inside!

Macheath said...

@PT Barnum

The 'scary dirt in your sheets' ad is as nothing compared to the one for a hands-free soap dispenser featuring the catchy slogan,

'Never touch a germy soap-pump again!'

Michael J. McFadden said...

Leg-Iron, I love it when you get up a good head of steam! :> Beautifully done!

Macheath, someone pointed out on another blog that the funniest thing about worrying about the germs on the soap button is the fact that when you touch it you're usually just about to wash your hands anyway!


Michael J. Mc Fadden

Michael J. McFadden said...

Oh! And better than the "3 second rule" if you grew up Catholic in Brooklyn was to pick up the gum or whatever, "kiss it up to God," and then it'd be fine!


Alex Cull said...

"If you are going to waste time worrying about bacteria, get yourself laminated and bathe in Dettol." Classic!

When did all the fuss about bacteria start? I remember playing in the dirt when I was a kid, and building dens with pieces of filthy corrugated iron; have still somehow managed to survive to hearty middle age.

Where did it all go wrong, eh?

Furor Teutonicus said...

Alex. It went wrong when they started allowing wimmin and pansies into Parliament, and "Advice bodies".

Tuesday Kid said...

They like to scare people don't they, the pointless mutherfuckers.

Anonymous said...

Really don't understand the British media's fascination with MRSA (which should really called be ORSA, since we've been testing it against oxacillin for ages now) but the only people who get these sorts of infections are those with compromised immune systems, which would include post-ops who pick up nosocomials via stupid nurses, CNAs and doctors with poor handwashing techniques.

But even people who test positive for MRSA are not necessarily "infected" with it, FFS and you can get septo from plenty of things that won't necessarily show up in a screen. The media scares the shit out people with little or no education in this field beyond whatever wikipedia has to offer and I think scare-mongering out to be a fineable offense.

And it's the people who go crazy with the anti-bacterial this and that who prime themselves for these infections to begin with. The soap/disinfectant companies have probably prepped as many people for disease as big tobacco, at this point.

Oh; I've ranted. Sorry...

PT Barnum said...

Germy soap dispenser! Hah, I'd forgotten that beauty. As someone who only really prizes antibacterial hygiene around the WC, and who has an immune system doctors admire, I spit on their products. No wonder everyone in this country is sick, allergic or sick and allergic.

Leg-iron said...

DP - ta for the tip.

Furor - the use-by dates are a safety net. Everything lasts longer than that date, it's just there so that if someone does get sick because they've been an idiot about storage, the supplier is covered.

Mouldy cheese - cut off the mouldy bits. The rest is fine.

Raw meat - if it's fresh, if the animal had no disease (if it did the abattoir would reject it anyway), it's safe to eat. Personally, I prefer cooked but that's just preference.

Leg-iron said...

JuliaM - that's also why we are all to be scared of germs now.

To sell brand-name germ-killers.

Plain old cheap bleach does exactly the same job.

Furor Teutonicus said...

Mouldy cheese - cut off the mouldy bits. The rest is fine.

Na. That's a waste. I just put garlic salt on it to disguise the wierd taste that mould has sometimes.

Anonymous said...

Oh dear, I've been ignored twice now. Might have to get pissy and ask why you're so overly confident about the eating of raw meat? Do you include pork and ground beef in that statement? Poultry, perhaps?

Furor Teutonicus said...

I ONLY eat pork, and fish (Also raw).

The British and their colonies are WIERD about food. You appear to cook EVERYTHING.

Today, for my evening meal I have pigs heart and kidneys, which I will dice,and eat raw. Saturday I am eating the eyes I ordered from the butcher. But those will be cooked. Maybe, Depends how hot the weather is.

I also have a liter bottle of pigs blood in the fridge, which I drink with iced garlic vodka and tobasco sauce.

Ground beef you can get in any German sandwich shop. It is mixed with chopped onions and parsley, or something similar, and put on a halved bread roll, and eaten raw.

Hackpeter it is called.

Furor Teutonicus said...

The name is derived from Low german mett for "chopped pork meat without bacon", or Old Saxon meti for "food". It also known as Hackepeter (20th century jargon, Northern Germany and Berlin). It consists of minced pork meat, normally sold or served seasoned with salt and black pepper, regionally also with garlic or caraway, and eaten raw. It is also permitted to add chopped onion, in which case it is known as Zwiebelmett (onion Mett). Legally, German Mett is not allowed to contain more than 35% fat[1]. Unless pre-packaged, the German Hackfleischverordnung ("minced meat directive") permits mett to be sold only on the day of production.


Anonymous said...

Alas, poor science, I knew it Leg Iron. A field of infinite questing for answers.
It hath born the hopes of humanity on its back a thousand times, and now how abhorr'd in my imagination it is!
My gorge rises at it.

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