The Icky Problem With Ordering Food on iPads

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A screen is 10 times dirtier than a toilet seat. Wash your hands after use!

Restaurants need to implement better cleaning procedures now that touchscreen devices are replacing traditional paper menus in many locations, particularly fast food venues. An article in Food Safety News points out that, while tablets have streamlined ordering and communication between front-of-house and the kitchen, they introduce a host of nasty bacteria.

The biggest problem is how many people use the same device. Everyone involved in the experience of dining out runs the risk of sharing screens. A tablet can pass between customers and server; it can get passed among tables, and changes hands with each new shift. The devices are filthier than you may realize. Obviously, passing around plastic-coated paper menus would have a similar effect, but these tend to get cleaned more often than devices do. As a server, I remember having to wipe down menus with soapy water on a daily basis; the debit/credit machine, never. (We didn't have tablets back then!)

How dirty do screens get?

"Scientists have found that the average cell phone is 10 times dirtier than a toilet seat. Major pathogens, like Streptococcus, MRSA, and E. Coli have routinely been found on electronic screens. Passing these dirty devices around spreads the germs and bacteria to hands – and then, potentially, to other surfaces"... 'Research says your phone is covered in germs: 25,107 bacteria per square inch to be exact. That makes your cell phone one of the filthiest objects you touch,' explained Francine L. Shaw, food safety expert and president of Savvy Food Safety Inc.

Food Safety News recommends that restaurants make a point of cleaning both staff's personal cellphones as soon as they enter the restaurant and after use, as well as any tablets used within the business on a regular basis. Washing hands is only part of the fight against germs; unless you're also washing the surfaces you come into contact with regularly, those germs will continue to spread.

How do you clean a screen?

"Clean and disinfect your cell phone by using a combination of 60 percent water and 40 percent rubbing alcohol. Mix the ingredients together, then dip a soft cloth -- don’t use a paper towel, it may scratch the screen -- in the solution and wipe the damp cloth gently across your phone."

Do the same for every tablet in the establishment, on a regular schedule, so nothing gets missed. And whether you work in a restaurant or not, avoid taking your phone into the bathroom, where it's likely to pick up even more nasty bugs. The less mixing of germs with food, the better off we'll all be.