Published on 24 Jan 2013 Sections ,

Eating at your desk: how disgusting is it?

Following her controversial comments on obesity and class, Anna Soubry, the minister for public health, has said eating at your desk is “disgusting”. How right is she?

A woman eating at her desk (picture: Getty)

Ms Soubry, who was criticised for saying it was easy to spot the poorer people in society because they tend to be overweight or obese, said in the Daily Telegraph “it’s disgusting, eating over a keyboard”, adding that people need to take time out for their lunch.

From a medical point of view, she may have a point.

Dirtier than the toilet

A US study last year, by a cleaning product manufacturer, found that keyboards can harbour “400 times more contamination than your average toilet seat”.

The study collected nearly 5,000 swabs from office buildings, housing more than 3,000 employees, to measure the adenosine triphosphate levels in different parts of the workplace.

ATP is a molecule found in all animal, vegetable, bacteria, yeass and mould cells – and indicates the presence of contamination on an object. An ATP level of under 100 indicates that a surface is relatively clean, but an ATP level of over 300 indicates a “high risk for illness transmission”.

Taps, handles and buttons

The study found that 27 per cent keyboards had an ATP level of over 300. Additionally, 75 per cent of bathroom taps, 48 per cent of microwave door handles and 21 per cent of vending machine buttons had the high contamination levels.

Additionally, an ATP level of 100 to 300 was found on 69 per cent of keyboards, 51 per cent of computer mice and 51 per cent of phones.

Dr Charles Gerba, a microbiologist from the University of Arizona, said: “People are aware of the risk of germs in the restroom, but areas like break rooms have not received the same degree of attention.

“This study demonstrates that contamination can be spread throughout the workplace when office workers heat up lunch, make coffee or simply type on their keyboards.”

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