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Sure, germs are everywhere, and being paranoid about them won’t keep you from getting sick. But considering the amount of time we spend at our desks and in our offices, it doesn’t hurt to be aware of the places where germs tend to congregate. Here are the nine germiest zones in most offices and what you can do about them.
Germ Haven #1: Computer Mouse and Keyboard
Barring an occasional visit from your company’s tech guy, you’re the only one who touches your mouse and keyboard, so how dirty could things get? In a word: very. “According to data, these are the worst offenders,” says Donna Duberg, assistant professor of clinical laboratory science at Saint Louis University in St. Louis, Missouri. The reason is simple, she says: People rarely clean them and it’s unheard of for cleaning crews to go to that level of detail. So, take matters into your own hands and give your keyboard and mouse a weekly wipe down with disinfecting wipes after you turn your computer off. The key word here is “disinfecting,” not sanitizing. Look for products that say “Kills 99.9 percent of germs and bacteria” on the label. This is an indication that they will get the job done.
Germ Haven #2: Top of Desk
Research shows that women spend more time at their desks than men. Our hardworking nature, however, is rewarded with bacteria—and lots of it. “Women tend to be at their desks longer than men, and they tend to keep a lot more things on their desktops, too,” says Duberg. Lunch, snacks, a stash of chocolate, magazines, photos of the kids, flowers, plants, candles—all reasonable things that are commonly found on women’s desks—can end up being a germ playground. And when a desktop is rarely or never cleaned, Duberg says, it can become a “buffet for bacteria.” What to do? You guessed it: Clean! Wipe down your desktop frequently—daily if you eat at your desk—with disinfecting wipes or with a disinfecting spray cleaner.
Germ Haven #3: Office Doorframe
Of course, you already know that the door handles or knobs are germ magnets, but the doorframe? Just think of all the people who pop into your office and stand in the doorway, says Duberg. Next time, notice how they lean on and run their hands along the edges. Everyone does it! This, she says, is why the humble doorframe can be a hidden germ zone. Wipe yours down yourself every week or so, or talk to the person who supervises the office cleaning crew to see if they can include doorframes on their list of things to disinfect.
Germ Haven #4: Phone
If you can’t remember the last time you cleaned your phone, it’s probably due for a scrub. If you share a phone, stop reading this article and go wipe yours down this second. Even a personal phone can be a vector for bacteria transmission. Don’t believe us? A study from researchers at the University of Arizona found that there are more than 25,127 germs per square inch on the average office phone receiver. Now, think of what you do when you’re talking on the phone. Are you rubbing your nose? Your eyes? People tend to do mindless, repetitive motions while talking on the phone. But follow Duberg’s advice and after you’ve touched your phone, “don’t touch your T-zone—eyes, nose and mouth.” If you share a phone, see if your boss will invest in a headset that only you can use when you’re talking on the phone, or wipe down the shared one frequently.
Germ Haven #5: Books
Nobody ever thinks that books carry germs, but surprise: They do! “Most of them are harboring mold spores, dust mites and bacteria,” warns Duberg. While it’s impossible to thoroughly clean all of your books, you might consider wiping down the covers of frequently used books at your desk with a little disinfectant on a cloth, suggests Duberg. Better yet: Wash your hands after handling them, especially if you’re an allergy sufferer. This could cut back on some of the microscopic allergens that can travel from your hands to your face.
Germ Haven #6: Candy Dish
Are you tempted by the dish of M&M’s or chocolate-covered espresso beans that your office manager keeps at the front desk? As good as they may look—especially during the 2 p.m. slump—most health experts will warn you: Step away from the candy dish. “I wouldn’t eat anything from a communal dish,” says Duberg. “Just think of where people’s hands have been.” Better idea: If you have a sweet tooth and frequently make your way to the communal candy dish to kill a craving, consider keeping a personal stash at your desk instead.
Germ Haven #7: Copy Machine
Duberg says it surprises many people to hear that a copier could be a germy place. But just think of how often this machine gets used and how many people share it. One push of a button can leave behind countless germs and bacteria that could make you sick. While you can’t walk around the office wearing plastic gloves (nor would you want to), you can remember not to touch your face after handling shared office equipment. Better yet: Wash your hands after using the copier—whether it’s just one quick copy or a stack of sorting and stapling.
Germ Haven #8: Fridge
Moldy sandwiches, condiments that expired in 1993, and a petrified carton of half-and-half that nobody will touch—office refrigerators can get out of control fast. Take the incident at an office complex in San Jose earlier this year: The break-room refrigerator situation got so out of control that when a cleaning crew was called in to toss rotten food and sanitize the situation, the fumes made employees so sick that seven people were hospitalized and 28 sought medical treatment for nausea and vomiting. Avoid refrigerator-induced health drama by instituting an office-wide toss day, where unmarked and expired food is thrown out every week, or every two weeks. In addition, adds Duberg, it’s always a good idea to wash your hands after touching the fridge door handle or suspicious-looking food.
Germ Haven #9: Conference Room Table
Think about the chain of events for the average conference room table: breakfast meeting at 9 a.m., creative brainstorming session with doughnuts at 10 a.m., team powwow at 11 a.m., followed by a staff birthday party luncheon at noon. Does the table get wiped down between sessions? Not likely. Instead, germs and viruses left behind from previous meeting attendees begin to multiply, eager to hitchhike onto your hands and arms as you sit around the table. The best way to take a conference room table from a breeding ground for bacteria to a clean surface is to institute an office-wide cleaning policy, advises Duberg. If food was served and eaten on the table, the table needs to be wiped down with a cloth and disinfecting spray.