Readers’ peeves about cleanliness create learning opportunity

Often I say learn from my mistakes. Today, I’m saying learn from my readers’ questions — because I did.

A reader complained because one of the big hotel chains doesn’t have hot water in its public bathrooms. Shouldn’t health officials do something about that?

Did you know that it doesn’t matter much when you wash your hands whether you use hot water or cold? No, I didn’t get that off some weird anti-hot water website (and somehow you know that exists). The Southern Nevada Health District said so.

Stephanie Bethel, spokeswoman at the health district, ran it by the environmental health staff. “Our regs only really consider sinks that are used by food handlers. We do not regulate public restrooms unless they are to be used by food handlers,” she wrote.

But then she explained, “You can effectively clean your hands in cold water as well as hot if you follow the 20-second rule. The difference really lies in the grease and detergent.”

“If your hands are covered in grease, like many food handlers, hot water is necessary (and mandated by our regs) to assist in breaking down the grease so the soap is effective,” she continued.

That’s why hot water is required for food handlers. The health district routinely closes restaurants that lack hot water.

But manufacturers are designing soaps to be just as effective in cold water, she said.

Bethel also researched another reader’s question: What can health officials do about busboys who use the same cloths to wipe the seats as they do the table?

Her short answer: nothing.

Tabletops are not designed for direct contact with food, which should be provided on plates or containers.

She reassures that while the practice seems unclean, “it’s important to know there hasn’t been a documented case of foodborne illness transmission from contact with a tabletop or seat.”

Caller Ray Thomas gave me food for thought. The longtime restaurant owner said his pet peeve regarding hand washing is watching busboys stick their fingers in glasses when they are clearing tables, then not washing their hands when they set out silverware and napkins.

He has a one-sentence solution. He tells the busboys, “The next time you do that, I’m going to make you lick your fingers.”

It’s such a peeve of his that when he sees it occur in other restaurants, he tells management he can’t return. Thomas, who has worked in the food industry for 42 years, said, “If you want to spread disease, that’s a great way to do it.”

Poker pro David Sklansky shared his insights about the bathroom habits of men, something he has learned during breaks at the World Series of Poker. “The fact is a pretty high percentage of guys who go into a stall because there is no urinal available don’t bother to lift the seat. Nor do they take care with their aim. A lovely situation to leave for the next guy with more normal needs.”

Sklansky had harsh words for men who don’t lift the seat, calling them “borderline sociopaths. Or maybe it’s just poker players.”

But he has a solution. Build a toilet seat that automatically goes up. Actually, somebody already has invented battery-operated touchless toilet seats. I never would have known, except for Sklansky.

Meanwhile, Latvian designer Kaspars Jursons has created a urinal that includes a sink above the urinal for handwashing.

That won’t solve Sklansky’s complaint, but it might increase the number of men who wash their hands. Or not.

Jane Ann Morrison’s column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. Email her at or call her at (702) 383-0275.

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