Let’s get one thing straight. I (Joe) am not a germaphobe. Yes, I do wash my hands before eating, but I do not sterilize everything in sight.

What I don’t understand is why so many visitors to this website seem to think it is OK for a barista to handle money and then grab a coffee cup by its rim or push down a lid with the palm of the hand.

Some time ago, we asked a question: “Are You Concerned about Coffee Cup Contamination?” Here are just a few answers:

R.M. stated:

“I have no concern about this whatsoever. Stop being so paranoid.”

Justin offered this:

“I understand the ‘barista and the lid’ anxiety, but it’s based on psychology and appearances, not science or medicine. If you SEE it, it becomes a worry, like the roach on the wall of the restaurant. Disgusting, and you may walk out. But if you never saw it, no big deal…keep your neuroses to yourself!”

Jane was outraged:

“This is much ado about nothing. ‘Germs’ are everywhere and our society has become a bunch of germophobes because the cleaning industry has decided they could cash in on it. Hand sanitizer has become our worst nightmare. We have this amazing thing called an immune system and it would do its job if people would let it and use a bit of common sense.

“If coffee lids are such a hazard, then so is everything else you come in contact with through the day. Think about where your hands have been and what all you touch!

“Watch that steering wheel in your car. Your car keys. Your car door. The radio knob. Your children! How about the gas pumps? Oh the list could go on and on! I might be more concerned about what is in the water being used to make the coffee than I would be the lid of the cup.”

Steve says:

“And so? Do not: breathe — touch anything — eat, and so on and so on. The concern here seems ridiculous. Anything we do in life has risk. So why are coffee lids any different than any other object?”

OK, you get the picture. There are obviously a lot of folks who think my concerns about coffee cup lid contamination is much ado about nothing. But a recent article in the Wall Street Journal titled “Why You Shouldn’t Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is,” tells another story.

According to the author, Robert Lee Hotz, “…researchers at New York University’s Dirty Money Project found that currency is a medium of exchange for hundreds of different kinds of bacteria as bank notes pass from hand to hand.”

The study in question assessed DNA footprints on $1 bills. Over 3,000 different kinds of bacteria were identified, not to mention fungi and viruses. It turns out that U.S. currency is a great breeding ground for all kinds of nasty bugs, including the kinds that can cause stomach ulcers, pneumonia, skin infections, food poisoning and goodness knows what else.

When a barista takes money, makes change and then grabs a coffee cup, fills it and then places a lid on top, there is bound to be transfer of microbes from cash to hands to cup to lid. That means every sip of coffee (or tea) transfers some of those germs to your mouth and then to your body.

Normally, the high acidity of your stomach is a pretty good killing ground for such invaders. But some organisms, like norovirus, are so infectious that just a tiny bit can make you sick as a dog. If you are taking an acid-suppressing drug like esomeprazole (Nexium), omeprazole (Prilosec) or lansoprazole (Prevacid), there is a possibility that the germs that make it to your stomach will survive.

So, what’s our People’s Pharmacy bottom line? First, we think the person handling the money should NOT be grabbing coffee cups or lids! Money is probably a lot dirtier than a toilet seat and you surely do not want to put your mouth there. The person who grabs your cup or lid should either be wearing gloves or washing hands periodically. Perhaps that seems excessive, but it seems like common sense to us. What do you think? Please let us know your opinion. Is this a tempest in a coffee pot? Share your own opinion below.

Get The Graedons' Favorite Home Remedies Health Guide for FREE

Join our daily email newsletter with breaking health news, prescription drug information, home remedies AND you'll get a copy of our brand new full-length health guide — for FREE!

  1. DCL

    I did not read all of these comments. I did get a degree in Medical technology and worked for several years. I grew up with many farm animals. They walk around and do various things, etc. I believe, it has been proven that children that grew up with animals, develop a good immunity. HOWEVER! in 2014, for example. We have so much travel and so many different world wide habits that many organisms have morphed? (lack of a better word) and have produced resistant organisms. I think, washing hands, staying away from coughing people, plus, not picking up dead or sick animals etc. have become more important.
    Those resistant bacteria, may get us in the end.. Something, is going to get us, but at age 83, I, still, want to play golf, garden etc. as long as i can enjoy it. When, i stop enjoying life, I hope to pass on rapidly. May God bless all of you.
    Pay attention to the Graedons. I have listened to their radio program for decades. BTW, I come from a family of physicians. They are very busy with patients, the Graedons are busy studying medications, etc. I have had so many severe side effects from meds. that I am nearly paranoid.
    Those include statins. Some people may need them and have no trouble. My legs have been weakened beyond what I ever expected. I have exercised regularly for decades. Please all of you, keep up a basic daily exercise to the best of your ability. It pays off physically and emotionally. Many can be done from a chair. Ask yourselves, “is this new medication really necessary”? and call your Dr/ & or pharmacist if you have new side effects. Don’t ever begin 2 new meds at the same time, unless really necessary. The drug companies really want to sell them. My mother lived past 100 in quite good health, and took very little medication in her life. She never got high BP, just ate lots of vegetables, dairy and very little meat.

  2. Cindy M. B.

    Can’t resist a comment on this, though I’ve made similar comments before. All my life I’ve done NOT ONE THING to prevent or avoid germs. I’m the type who’d take a paper coffee cup OUT OF A PUBLIC TRASHBIN if I needed one, and MAYBE quickly rinse it out with a little cold water if I was feeling really OCD, and then drink out of it to my heart’s content. I’ve done this (and worse) all my life, and I just never ever get sick. Maybe it’s due to an early “inoculation” to all kinds of germs; maybe it’s due to the immune system boosters (like Bovine colostrum) I take daily… but I just look at these germaphobes and am filled with wonder. Then again, you hear of people getting sick all the time and even dying… so what do I know? I’m lucky.

  3. J.M.

    I don’t think it is paranoid to be concerned about the coffee cup lids. I often wonder just how dirty the menus in restaurants are. I try to wash hands before eating, but what about eating after handling menus that have been handled by many, many people without being cleaned ?! Yuk!

  4. SD

    Poor WP! now that she drinks her java through a straw, she’s going to get those awful lines around her mouth!

  5. Donnie

    I don’t handle my own foods and beverages with dirty hands, and don’t want strangers doing it, either. I would rather be safe, then sick because someone else is too lazy to wash their dirty hands. Money is covered with disease causing pathogens and toxic chemicals, because many people have handled it. It is common sense to use caution, and not take a risk of becoming ill.

  6. WR

    Where did the barista get the money that he/she is handling? From you, do you wash “your” hands every time after paying for something?

  7. R.M.

    In the news and on blogs and websites like yours, I am told daily that I need to be afraid of germs, sunlight, sun-block, plastics, phthalates, PVC, mercury in fish, fish radiated by the Fukushima meltdown, red meat, indoor and outdoor air pollution, BPA, growth hormones, trans fats, saturated fats, carbohydrates, wheat gluten, corn, soy, dairy, conventionally produced anything, electro-magnetic radiation, cell phones, radiated fruits and vegetables, MSG, cholesterol, sugar, aspartame, saccharin, canola oil, fluorescent lighting, chlorinated water, fluoridated water, household cleaners, pesticides, aluminum, lead, silver fillings, riding a bicycle without a helmet or knee and elbow pads, smoking, drinking, a sedentary lifestyle, sitting or standing for long periods of time, processed foods, nitrates and nitrites, high-glycemic foods, high fructose corn syrup, immunizations, phytoestrogens, too little or too much exercise, PCBs, VOCs, asbestos, dioxins, and stress. I’m sorry, but I don’t have room on my list of phobias to add your dirty coffee cups.

  8. dj

    This is more about human nature than nature of germ & their transmission. We all know money is filthy from being handled, dropped, kept in crotches, bras, etc, and we know infectious diseases can be transferred via the mouth by touch. We also know that DENIAL is the first and most used human emotional defense so why be surprised when people don’t want to accept challenges to their daily habits? Authorities say it, public health required sanitary practices, but the average person does not want to know for they don’t want to be inconvenienced. There’s a reason people quote the “Five second rule.”

  9. jas

    I’M OUTRAGED! The reason why viruses, germs, fungus & bacteria thrive in the first place is that their hosts of transmission are ignorant, inconsiderate, lazy humans. Yes, viruses will still survive & get people sick… but how hard is it to wipe Purell on your hands? Really? It takes 10 seconds! (And what exactly are you going to do with those extra 10 seconds of not cleaning your hands? Save humanity???)
    I got h-o-s-p-i-t-a-l-i-z-e-d with the norovirus, which I did track to the grocery cart I had used. God knows what baby poop or snot germs were on the cart handle, but it cost me, you and everyone else over $1,000 in insurance costs and lost wages for the ambulance, IV, over-night hospital stay, etc., just because you slobs out there don’t give a damn and think you’re invincible…? (Whiskey!-Tango!-Foxtrot!???) We live in our culture where people make more of an effort and spend billions of dollars to kill body odor, than kill the germs that can make them horribly sick or kill you!!! I say, label these stubborn, inconsiderate morons as F.O.Gs (Friends of Germs!) I vote for the “Germ-a-phobes.” I’d rather live with reasonable preventative steps to protect my health and my familiy’s health than die with the plague… just because there’s a plague of idiots out there.

  10. nb

    There are so many ways to pass germs. It is difficult to avoid them all. As I was growing up many years ago in a country town there was a great deal said about germs. Some boys had hands that looked like they never saw water let alone soap. Then there was the practice of the Saturday night bath, sometimes in the same water used by a brother or sister. Fortunately my parents believed in cleanliness and taught us the best they could. However, the kids with dirty hands didn’t seem to get sick any more than I did. Maybe we were more immune to germs or there are now new mutations of some we did not have in those days.

  11. FP

    I’ll answer with a question: Why would ANYone pick up a cup, glass, utensil — with the part that goes in your mouth?!! Grab it by the handle, side, bottom, whatever part that doesn’t go in your mouth. FP

  12. Jen

    I often read on your website and elsewhere, the realization of the wisdom of mothers, grandmothers, previous generations, etc. Well, I am a grandmother and my mother taught me as a child that money is “dirty.”
    If y’all trust your immune system to take care of any and all possibilities I guess it does not matter. However, I think I will stick with my mother’s long-ago advice and accept the fact that money can be hazardous to my health. And I appreciate it if my barista – and others – are as conscientious as AB Barista, above, is. Congratulations to her/him.

  13. WP

    Most times I drink my coffee-house java through a straw. It makes it easy to drink and drive. Also it reduces discoloration of my teeth.

  14. Barbara

    I agree. What you wrote is just good, common sense. I think it is a health dept. violation to handle money and then handle food. It is wrong to handle food also without washing hands.
    Today I was in an Asian grocery store where they make fresh fruit smoothies while you wait. The woman was sweeping the floor and stopped to make a smoothie for me. She did not use soap to wash her hands, she just turned on the water faucet and passed her hands under the water for one second. Then she turned off the water faucet she had just touched with dirty hands. Then she patted her hands on a dirty sponge lying on the counter.
    I tried to tell her to wash her hands with soap, but she did not speak English. I did not buy a smoothie and I won’t be buying any store prepared food there, ever! And perhaps not in any other store either. Food prepared at home is safer and cleaner.

  15. HJagow

    Smart establishments do not have people handling both food and money, and I do not patronize any that do. I used to work in a lab that tested money, and it is the filthiest thing any of us touch, especially in and around a hospital. A little common sense goes a long way. We keep a small bottle of sanitizer in our cars and when we have had our hands on shopping carts, etc., we use it. I believe that washing hands first thing when returning home is also a smart thing to do.

  16. AB Barista

    I’m a barista. I take your order, make your drink, answer the phone, wash the dishes, answer your questions, explain why your order is not ready when there is one barista and twelve customers at once… and get your cup for drip coffee, too. I will get that cup and lid light after taking your money but what you might not be noticing is how I wash my hands about thirty times in an eight hour day, not including doing dishes by hand and getting them out of the bleach rinse (50-100 ppm, tested, every time I make it.) If you get sick because my hands touched your lid I
    will have a difficult time believing it.
    Other shops may differ but where I work the joke is “if you breathe, go wash your hands.”

What Do You Think?

We invite you to share your thoughts with others, but remember that our comment section is a public forum. Please do not use your full first and last name if you want to keep details of your medical history anonymous. A first name and last initial or a pseudonym is acceptable. Advice from other commenters on this website is not a substitute for medical attention. Do not stop any medicine without checking with the prescriber. Stopping medication suddenly could result in serious harm. We expect comments to be civil in tone and language. By commenting, you agree to abide by our commenting policy and website terms & conditions. Comments that do not follow these policies will not be posted.

Your cart

Shipping and discount codes are added at checkout.