6 ways to catch fewer germs in public

We ask the experts how best to banish bacteria when you’re out and about.

If you have to go, you have to go: but for most of us, it seems, this also means having to overcome a crippling fear of public hygiene.

[Read more: Are you washing your hands properly?]

“Over a third of the taps and more than half of an average wash basin in a public washroom is contaminated by coli-forming bacteria,” explains Steve Levy, inventor of the Sterillo hand dryer.

“This is compounded by the problem that most people don’t wash their hands correctly, meaning washroom hygiene can pose a serious risk to public health. We are likely to be exposed to Salmonella, e. coli, MRSA and Hepatitis A when we visit.”

6 tips to avoid bacteria in public places

But sometimes you have no option but to do battle with these alarming armies of bacteria.

So if you must join them, at least know how to beat them – both in the public toilets, and beyond.

1. In public toilets

“After you wash your hands [in public toilets] avoid touching door handles when you exit,” advises Steve.

“Even if you do wash your hands well, use toilet tissue as a barrier as you leave the washroom. Ensure you dry your hands well too as bacteria multiplies rapidly in warm and moist conditions.”

Also, hide your phone - research by Sterillo reveals that much of the UK use their phones on the toilet, exposing then to contamination - and always shut the lid before you flush.

“Almost two thirds (62%) of people stated they don’t close the lid before they flush,” explains Levy. “This means every time someone flushes, a germ-filled mushroom cloud is created containing viruses and bacteria that are suspended in the air and take hours to slowly fall, gradually covering toilet cubical doors, walls, floors, toilet rolls and anything nearby.” So choose cubicles that have the lid down.

2. At the shops

You might be picking up more at the supermarket than the latest bargains.

“A recent survey by the Food Standards Agency found 7% of fresh chicken packaging was contaminated with Campylobacter, bacteria that cause severe diarrhoea, sickness and even nasty side effects such as reactive arthritis,” warns health and hygiene expert Dr Lisa Ackerley.

“These bacteria can get on to your hands, onto trolley handles and of course into your mouth if you happen to fancy grazing as you shop - or feeding your children snacks.”

The solution is to use anti-bacterial surface wipes on trolley handles to clean them first, and always “wash your hands after a shopping trip and of course before eating or preparing foods.”

Remember, though, it’s not just the trolley or food that’s a problem, there’s the check-out too: there are more germs on a £1 coin than a toilet seat, and cash machines carry the same germs as public toilets. Time to go contactless?

3. On the bus

You already know your commute contains delays, but did you know it also contains diarrhoea-causing germs.

“Any number of germs can be found on public transport - from norovirus to the common cold,” says Ackerly.

“Contaminated hands from seats, handles, buttons and handrails can cause infections easily - so be conscious that your hands may be dirty and avoid rubbing your eyes (a sure way to infect yourself with a cold or flu) and don’t snack on the train - with every lick of the fingers, you are not just transferring cheese and onion flavour, but norovirus, e. coli or anything else that is around on the train.”

4. In the gym

You’re going there to be healthy, but be warned, says Ackerly. “If you use your towel to dry gym equipment, you could be picking up Staphylococcus aureus bacteria which causes skin infections, sinusitis and food poisoning. It’s commonly found on skin and in around 25% of the population.

"Always wash the towel in a hot temperature wash, or use Dettol Anti-bacterial Laundry cleanser to kill 99.9% of bacteria.” 

5. At the cinema

Everyone loves pick and mix. Which means, sadly, not everyone has the patience to wash their hands before digging in. “If you’re buying sweets in the pick and mix, make sure there are scoops so people are using those rather than their dirty hands - imagine if they’ve just come off a train or tube and then dig in to the sweet selection! All the germs will just transfer onto the sweets.”

6. In the office

“It’s astonishing how many people don’t wash their hands after using the toilet,” says Ackerly, “and if they don’t then everything they touch afterwards could become contaminated, from water coolers to keyboards to printers.

“It’s especially an issue if you ‘hot-desk’, using a different desk and new equipment every day. Use cleansing wipes, like Dettol Anti-bacterial ones, to clean the desk and keyboard, mouse and phone before starting work so any germs left behind by someone else have been removed.”

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