Dear Readers: Every year during this time I step away from my column to work on other creative projects. I hope you enjoy these “Best Of” Q&A from 10 years ago. Today’s topic is: “Germ Donors!”
I also invite readers to subscribe to my weekly “Asking Amy” newsletter, at Amydickinson.substack.com, where I post advice, as well as commentary about what I’m reading, watching, and listening to.
I’ll be back with fresh Q&A next week.
Dear Amy: I’ve been happily married for two years. I am grateful for my in-laws’ kindness and enjoy their company. The problem is my mother-in-law’s cooking. She does not wash her hands!
I have caught her putting her fingers in food, licking her fingers and putting her fingers back in the same dish.
During our Christmas visit, she and I prepared leftovers. She “re-mashed” the potatoes with her bare hands, without ever washing her hands!
My husband and I are disgusted.
Is there any way to bring this to her attention without hurting her feelings?
I do not want to cause conflict, but I am mortified to think of the germs in the food she serves us.
– Grossed Out
Dear Grossed Out: This is extremely unappetizing, not to mention unhealthy. If your mother-in-law handled uncooked chicken or shellfish and then plunged her unwashed hands directly into a bowl of mashed potatoes, for instance, this could cross-contaminate foods and spread food-borne illness. If you were pregnant and contracted Listeria from these unsanitary practices, it could be disastrous.
The CDC offers recommendations for safe food handling practices – and washing utensils and hands are paramount (cdc.gov). Because your husband was raised by his mother and is also grossed out by this, one wonders if she has always done this, or if this is a new development. If it’s new, his mother could have her own health issues leading to this behavior. Bringing this up shouldn’t cause conflict, though your mother-in-law might be a little stung. Try saying: “Mom, I’m very concerned about hand-washing in the kitchen. Can you help me out here? I feel like I can’t eat comfortably unless the cook washes her hands often. I love your cooking, but I can’t eat after I’ve seen your hands in the food.”
Dear Amy: My husband and I frequent a local restaurant every week. We have been going to this place sometimes two or three times a week for the last four years.
There is one waitress who insists on serving us. She is good at her job, but every time she greets us, she kisses us on our lips.
It makes me very uncomfortable. I have mentioned to her a few times that I have a cold and so “no kisses for me,” but then the next time we go in, she does it again!
– Diner in a Dilemma
Dear Diner: The only thing left to do is to tell this person, “I apologize because I should have told you a long time ago, but I really don’t like to be kissed when we come in. It makes me very uncomfortable. I hope you understand.” If she won’t respect this boundary, you should mention this to the manager.
Dear Amy: My in-laws think nothing about putting a spoon they licked back into the coleslaw or potato salad, or double-dipping chips into salsa or dips. My kids were taught not to do this. We’ve mentioned this to them a few times, but they get offended and believe we are insulting them.
What are the health risks? Maybe if we could explain it from a positive viewpoint, they might understand.
– Always Offended
Dear Offended: My instinct was that this wasn’t really so harmful (despite the famous “double-dipping” episode of “Seinfeld” that has been burned into our collective memory). And then I did some checking.
The Food and Drug Administration referred me to a 2008 Clemson University study. The question researchers chose to answer is: “Does double-dipping actually spread bacteria and germs?” They assembled volunteers and used wheat crackers and dips. Ultimately, they found that in just a few double-dips, about 10,000 bacteria were transferred from the eater’s mouth to the remaining dip. According to the director of the study, this is the rough equivalent of kissing someone on the mouth. If the person is carrying an infectious disease, it could possibly be transmitted to others. So, you have to ask yourselves, are you on kissing terms with your in-laws?
(You can email Amy Dickinson at email@example.com or send a letter to Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068. You can also follow her on Twitter @askingamy or Facebook.)
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