The other day, as I pulled out a shopping cart at Whole Foods, I noticed that most of the other cart-pullers were assiduously scrubbing their hands with the germ-removing handy-wipes that Whole Foods so kindly dispenses. After doing their personal surgical scrub, my fellow shoppers proceeded to do a clean-room disinfectant job on the shopping cart handles. None of these folks had a babe-in-arms to protect, by the way. They were just looking out for Number One.
I, too, was looking out for Number One. But my look-out tells me not to be such an all-fired fetishist about germs.
Not that I'm slathering my hands in chicken parts before I pop a slice of cucumber into my maw. Nor am I eating off the toilet seats in airport restrooms. And I worry about being attacked by flesh-eating bacteria as much as the next guy.
Still, I'm of the old-school that says that the way to beat down germs is to build up a resistance to them, not encourage new and more virulent ones to breed in their stead. So I'm not going to risk a hip-breaking fall by using my foot to karate-chop the flushing mechanism in that airport bathroom. Nor am I using my elbows to open doors that some Typhoid Mary may have touched six weeks earlier. And I'm not going to start sterilizing my shopping cart, either.
Okay, I do get a flu shot. And I generally have a mini bottle of Purell in my bag. But that's for really icky emergency situations (like when someone just rhino-virused in her hands before touching the doorknob I was about to grasp).
But mostly, I just practice common-sense hygiene.
And, knock on wood (with my elbow, of course; you don't know who's been sneezing on that surface) , I am spectacularly healthy and haven't had a cold in years.
Back at Whole Foods, as I used my germy hands to push my germy cart, I noticed that the handy-wipers had no problem touching the produce.
Were they assuming that everyone had scrubbed up before squeezing the grapefruit and sniffing the cantaloupe? Or that germs don't linger on the skins of fruit and veg the same way they do on grocery cart handles? (Which they probably don't, but for all we know, they linger longer.)
Anyway, while I was germinating, I mean ruminating, about the cleanliness is next to Whole Foodliness brigade, what appears in The Wall Street Journal but an article on a new breed of home refrigerators designed to get rid of refrigerator germs. (Access to this article may require a subscription.)
I hadn't actually given much thought over the years to refrigerator cleanliness.
If there's a mess, I clean it. If there's something rotting - which I am generally successful at avoiding - I pitch it. Other than that, what goes on behind those closed doors stays behind those closed doors. Which means I probably don't clean out the crispers, wipe down the shelves, pry gunk out of the gasket, or toss out 3 year old partially used, completely frozen bags of cranberries often enough.
Still, it will be a long time coming before I invest in the latest in fridge vigilance technology from Viking, which in 2009 brought out:
...a built-in model (priced from $6,600 to $8,800) that contains Sharp Electronics Corp.'s Plasmacluster Ion Air Purifier. The device, located at the top of the fridge, generates positive and negative ions that break down bacteria, mold and mildew, says Sue Bailey, the company's director of major appliance product management. In a test conducted by an outside firm hired by Viking Range, the Plasmacluster killed 99% of the bacteria in the fridge.
My, my, my. Just how did my grandmother live to be 97 without a Plasmacluster?
Few appliance-makers will be able to outdo this, but Whirlpool:
...spent months inventing a shelf with microscopic etching so it can hold a can of spilled soda.
Who says we've lost our innovative edge? (USA! USA!)
Seriously, just how big a problem is a spilled can of soda? Don't most of us down the whole thing in one sitting?
GE is putting in more lights, the easier to find grot-filled corners where germs are apt to homestead in spoiled food. SubZero is tackling the germy fridge problem by focusing on education - No Fridge Gazer left behind. They're including instructions on where to store things. (No milk in the doors, please. That's the warmest spot in the house.)
Personally, I think that most folks probably police their fridges well enough to avoid ptomaine. Rotting food, well, smells like rotting food.
Where I think these manufacturers are missing the market is in building special refrigerators for the office environment.
These would require that no one be allowed to put anything in the fridge that didn't have an RFID tag with a expiration date time stamp. Further, each item placed in the fridge should send an alert to the owner when the expiration date is nearing. Once the expiration date is reached, the item would be hit with some sort of built-in neutron bomb that would completely incinerate any traces of it.
This would be the Viking or SubZero version.
At the Whirlpool and GE end of the market, we could have a fridge that, every Friday at 5 p.m. automatically heaved its entire contents into a trash receptacle.
Think about it!
No more dire warnings about removing food.
No more house-mom putting on the rubber gloves and chucking out those desiccated, half eaten turkey on wheats. Those 11 month old Yoplaits. Those Tropicana cartons with the oozing inch of sludge in the bottom.
I'm convinced that it's not the fridge in your kitchen, let alone the grocery cart at Whole Foods, that's the problem. It's the office refrigerator where society's real germ problem flourishes.
Sure, this isn't a sellers market, but before you take a new job, check out the kitchen.
If there's no Plasmacluster in the fridge, you've got a point to negotiate on.