Turns out menus and pepper shakers are pretty gross!
Credit: Photo by Bernard Van Berg / EyeEm via Getty Images

It’s flu season again. And even if you’ve inoculated yourself with a flu shot, the world we live in is riddled with germs. Even restaurants aren’t really the bastion of spotlessness or sterility you might hope they’d be. And though signs mandating that employees wash their hands before returning to work would suggest that a bathroom is a restaurant’s biggest den of disease, it turns out this isn’t the case.

That distinct honor belongs to some of the items sitting right on your table. Specifically, the menu and the pepper shaker. Yes, the very act of ordering and seasoning your food is enough to expose you to the grossest parts of a restaurant. Based on swab testing in a variety of locations by ABC News a while back, a menu is riddled with 185,000 units of bacteria, with a pepper shaker testing a distant second with 11,600.

"These are objects you're going to touch that can serve as vehicles that are transmitting micro organisms that can potentially make you ill," Dr. Chuck Gerba of the University of Arizona told ABC News at the time.

It’s pretty logical if you think about it: Two of the things that get touched by patrons (who themselves aren’t required to wash their hands before or during their meal because this is America and we have freedom) the most are going to be the biggest vessels for bacteria. And whereas bathrooms get cleaned regularly, menus and pepper shakers can harbor a lot of germs without ever looking all that dirty, meaning your average restaurant is less likely to go through the trouble of disinfecting them routinely.

So if you’re a germaphobe worried about making it through another winter with your health intact, you may want to stick to one-page menus and avoid seasoning your dish at all costs. Sure, it’s not all that exciting, but you can’t put a price on your health.