Go Ad-Free
logoThe People's Perspective on Medicine

Should You Worry About Germs on Your Coffee Cup Lid?

Are you someone who cares about germs or are you a bring-them-on kind of person? What about germs on your coffee cup lid? People get worked up about this!

Do you pay attention when you visit your local coffee shop? Can you observe the person who fills your mug or places the lid on your paper cup? Does that person wear disposable gloves? We are constantly surprised to observe someone take your money at the cash register, turn around and grab a paper cup by sticking their fingers inside and on the lip of the cup and then fill it with coffee and push the plastic lid down with the same hand that grabs your cash. Are you at all concerned about germs on your coffee cup lid by such behavior?

The War Over Germs:

Americans are passionate about germs. As with so many other topics these days, there appear to be two polarized camps. Germophobes hate shaking hands. They use hand sanitizer all day long and scrub their kitchen counters with disinfectant. When they go out, they try to avoid touching doorknobs and elevator buttons.

On the other side, you have the unconcerned. They don’t worry about germs. Shaking hands or hugging is welcome. They wash their hands infrequently and rarely disinfect anything.

Germs On Your Coffee Cup Lid?

Nowhere is this dichotomy more apparent than in your neighborhood coffee shop. The debate centers around germs on your coffee cup lid.

Does the barista who takes your money use the same hand to put the plastic lid on your paper coffee cup? If so, does it bother you? Readers of this column are divided.

Readers Weigh In:

One reader opined:

“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 a restaurant. Disgusting, and you may walk out. But if you never saw it, no big deal. Keep your neuroses to yourself!”

There are plenty of readers who agree, as this one did:

“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 different from any other object?”

Dirty Money?

Well, one thing that makes coffee cup lids different is the money you’ve just exchanged for your latte.

As one reader noted:

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

Another one remarked:

“I don’t handle my own foods and beverages with dirty hands, and I don’t want strangers doing it either. I would rather be safe than 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.”

The Barista Perspective:

There is another perspective to be considered: the one from behind the counter.

One reader commented:

“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 right after taking your money, but what you don’t see is that 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.”

Flu Season Is Here!

Despite such reassurances, this is the flu season. Viral particles are easily transmitted from hand to coffee lid. Microbiologist Charles Gerba has tested coffee cup lids and found all sorts of bacterial and viral contamination:

“It’s basically catch a cold with your caffeine in the morning. I don’t think most people expect it.”

Here is a link to the full story in The Daily Wildcat. The bottom line of Dr. Gerba’s study:

“Gerba said E. coli was just one of the indicators in his study. He also saw other bacteria present, like the Norovirus, which causes adult diarrhea. Bacteria like these can cause people who handle and who drink from these coffee lids to get not only diarrhea, but anything from a common cold to the flu, said Gerba.”

Norovirus? What’s That?

You do not want to know norovirus! Here is what the CDC has to say about norovirus:

“Norovirus is a very contagious virus that can infect anyone. You can get it from an infected person, contaminated food or water, or by touching contaminated surfaces. The virus causes your stomach or intestines or both to get inflamed. This leads you to have stomach pain, nausea, and diarrhea and to throw up. These symptoms can be serious for some people, especially young children and older adults…”

We think that is an understatement. When they say very contagious, they are not kidding. Just a tiny amount of this virus can lead to sudden onset, intense vomiting and diarrhea. Abdominal pain is often part of the mix. And the vomiting and diarrhea are intense! This virus often attacks cruise ships and sends them home to port. But it also affects landlubbers even more frequently. Enough said.

If someone transmits the tiniest amount of the virus on money and it is transferred to your coffee cup lid, you are likely to suffer some very unpleasant consequences.

What Is the Answer to Germs On Your Coffee Cup Lid?

What is the solution? Well, some readers prefer to make their own coffee at home. That works when you are there, but sometimes you want a cup when you’re out. If you take your thermos with you, you can hang onto the lid yourself while the barista fills the thermos with coffee. Then any germs you’ll encounter will be your own.

What’s Your Opinion?

Which side are you on in this debate?

No worries mate! The more germs the merrier.


Be careful to observe how the barista handles your coffee cup lid. If you see something you don’t like, speak up! Ask for a new cup or a clean lid.

Share your own story or weigh in with your opinion in the comment section below.

Rate this article
4.2- 34 ratings
About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.”.
Tired of the ads on our website?

Now you can browse our website completely ad-free for just $5 / month. Stay up to date on breaking health news and support our work without the distraction of advertisements.

Browse our website ad-free
Join over 150,000 Subscribers at The People's Pharmacy

We're empowering you to make wise decisions about your own health, by providing you with essential health information about both medical and alternative treatment options.