It was just like any other day at work. I brought in some snacks to share with my team. (We usually took turns bringing in goodies—very healthy to sometimes decadent.) This time, it was a bag of sea salted popcorn. As usual, I put out a stack of paper cups so everyone could pour popcorn into the cups instead of reaching their unwashed, un-hand-sanitized germ-infested hands into the bag. As I looked up from my desk, the head of the sales department—who had just recovered from pink eye, mind you—was reaching into the bag where she grabbed a handful of popcorn and shoveled it in her mouth before going back for seconds.
Horrified, I froze. WTF was this woman thinking, especially just after having pink eye, where I had to go around the entire office wiping everything down with Lysol and Clorox bleach wipes because the cleaning service only came twice a week? Where I wore latex gloves around the office in case she touched something that I just cleaned? How dare she violate my team’s snacks in that way?! These snacks were for my department—not for the entire office.
Before you start thinking I’m crazy, I’m not. Just a germophobe. I don’t actually have a lethal fear of germs—I just don’t like touching things that other people have touched, not knowing whether or not they washed their hands. Who knows what’s on their hands?! (Did they go to the bathroom and forget to wash? Did they cough into their hand before shaking mine? That sort of thing. Gross, right?)
At work, everyone knows I’m a “clean freak” aka germophobe. My team always puts up with my quart-size hand sanitizer, bleach wipes and everything else that I use to keep the office—and my hands—clean. When it comes to celebrations, they are kind enough to always have extra dishes or cups on hands so people can take their own portions without contaminating the food for the rest of us.
While it’s scary how nothing can kill that 0.01% of a germ, I will always carry liquid sanitizer, hand wipes and bleach wipes. There’s no telling what I’ll encounter on my travels. (There’ll be more on “germ-free travel” in a future post.) As for my office, yes, that is usually spotless and scrubbed within an inch of its life. (This “germ free office” commercial from Staples always makes me laugh.)
Thanks to my obsession with hand washing/sanitizing—and not touching too many things in public—I have managed to cut down on the amount of times I’ve been sick in a given year. Here are some useful habits that you can incorporate into your routine to reduce germs and maybe even reduce the amount of colds and bugs you get every year, too.
- Wash your hands. As soon as you come in from work, food shopping, wherever, be sure to wash your hands thoroughly. Use soap, scrub for 20-30 seconds, then rinse. Of course, if you’re going out to eat, it’s always best to wash up just before dining. If you’re too lazy to walk to the restroom, bring hand wipes and sanitizer.
- Use paper hand towels. If you plan on having lots of company, instead of having everyone reuse the same towel over and over, use the disposable hand towels. Kleenex makes them and you can place the box on the sink and save the regular towels for your own personal use. (Just be sure to wash those regularly, too. Otherwise, the towels will be germier than your hands.)
- Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze. While this is a no-brainer, a lot of people are too lazy to cover up when they cough or sneeze. And for crying out, do not sneeze into the palm of your hand! Use your sleeve or elbow or a tissue. By covering up, you’ll stop the spread of a potential cold or flu. If you don’t, people within 6 feet of you can catch whatever you have. Yes, 6 feet.
- Wear gloves. If you’re like me, then you’ll be wearing gloves on the subway year-round. In the winter, it’s less conspicuous. In warmer months, instead of gloves, you can use hand wipes, paper towels or latex gloves. Whatever floats your boat. Just don’t touch anything in the subways! (Don’t get me started on how dirty the NYC subways are!)