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Hank talks about how your toilet is actually one of the cleanest places in your house, despite its function. Research has shown that cutting boards, dish towels and sponges have FAR more fecal bacteria on them than your toilet seat, highlighting the very sophisticated scientific ways we have of detecting bacteria as well as the sophisticated natural ways our bodies have of taking care of low levels of that harmful bacteria. So that's good news...

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References for this episode can be found in the Google document here: http://dft.ba/-3fyo
Ever feel like maybe you should be eating off your toilet seat? Well think again.
(intro music)

Our brains are programmed to understand the macroscopic world of macroscopic threats, and poop seems like a pretty big one. You get a little bit of it in your mouth or in your eye, and you could be in for some serious unpleasantness, so we tend to be quite diligent when it comes to disinfecting our toilets. Even though we don't tend to like, lick them very often. Toilet seats are designed to be resistant to bacteria and easy to clean making them one of the cleanest places in your home. In fact, you'd probably be better off cutting your veggies on it than the average cutting board. 

This, according to research across the world done by Dr. Chuck Gerba, professor of microbiology at the University of Arizona who studies how diseases are passes through the environment.

So get ready to microwave everything in your kitchen, the average cutting board has 200 times more fecal bacteria than your toilet seat. The average dish towel has 20,000 times more fecal bacteria. The average sponge has 200,000 times more.

It's not just that we don't think of these things as dirty since they sit in clean areas and are in facts supposed to clean things, it's just that they're good are harboring bacteria. The little nicks in your cutting board and the nooks in your sponge all work together to hold microscopic bits of food that keep the bacteria satisfied in little crevices where they can hide from your disinfectants.

Now I know what you're thinking, "not me, I wash thoroughly after every wipe, there is no way any poo bacteria gets out of the bathroom." Well, I have news for you; I'm not necessarily talking about human fecal matter. 

Gerba says that most fecal germs in the kitchen actually come from other animals. The meat, blood, and other tissues that we prepare as food; that stuff can contain poop germs like e.coli from the animal itself or God knows what other critter it's been interacting with. If you've ever seen or even driven past a cattle feed lot or a poultry farm, you know that poo and close quarters are facts of daily livestock life. Yet another way that meat seems to get back at us for eating it.

But no matter where the it comes from, this does not mean that we are in immediate peril from death by sponge. Rather, it says more about how extremely unnaturally clean our toilet seats are. Still, according to a 2007 study, you can safe-up your sponges by getting them a little bit wet and then microwaving them for 2 minutes, killing a majority of the bacteria, and will keep it smelling fresh.

What all of this really highlights for me is that we have extremely sophisticated ways of detecting bacteria and that's good for the world, and also our bodies have very sophisticated ways of taking care of low levels of harmful bacteria; another thing that we can be thankful for. While Gerba's research is fascinating and a little bit scary, we're a lot better off than his results at first indicate. But, wash your cutting board, microwave your sponges, and don't worry too much about your toilet seat. It's probably fine just the way it is.

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