Here's how dirty restaurant menus really are

If you're not the kind of person that thinks about packing hand sanitizer wherever you go, we have news about germs and restaurants that we expect might make you change your mind.

When University of Arizona microbiologist Charles Gerba listed six of the germiest things you can find in a restaurant for Today, all but one of the items he talked about came as a surprise. He named high chairs and booster seats, which makes sense. But he also pointed a finger at the top of pepper containers (bring your own, Gerba says), tabletops, eating utensils (they shouldn't make direct contact with the table)... and the menu. 

Cleaning experts say even though plenty of people handle menus, they are most often ignored and overlooked, and as a result, studies show menus could end up with as much as 185,000 microbes per square centimeter. Just to give you an idea of how horrible that is, a public toilet can have between 500 to 1,000 germs per square centimeter (via Eco Source). Tests have even shown that E. coli and S. aureus (staph) can survive on menus, which means they can probably be transmitted by sharing infected menus too (via WebMD).

Plastic menus carry more germs than paper ones

Plastic menus are said to be far worse than paper menus because plastic repels water, which can sit on its surface until it evaporates — and that gives microbes plenty of time to grow. The microbiologist says restaurant workers are meant to be wiping down their plastic menus with a disinfectant, but they may not be doing that properly. "So many times, the employees either don't soak the cleaning cloth in disinfectant long enough to kill its germs or they don't take time to wipe the menus completely," Gerba tells Today.

The best way to protect yourself against menu-borne microbes is to wash your hands properly (we should all be experts at this by now) as soon as you're done ordering your food and before you start eating. And while you might argue that no one has ever caught anything while handling an infected menu before, we'd say that you never know.