dirty money

Who doesn’t like some good ole dirty money?  Unless you use strictly plastic, chances are, you have some money in your pocket.  And more than likely, it’s dirty.  Not talking about the ill begotten kind, although most of that is also dirty.  Unless you are packing freshly printed bills, your money is dirty. In fact, it’s filthy.

Most currency is loaded with all kinds of bacteria. And not the good kind. Most of us know not to handle money and then stick our fingers in our mouths. But if we handle money and then grab a sandwich, or any food item, (without washing) we are doing just that.

Not that sticking money in our mouths will make us sick. But it is kind of like roulette. You do it often enough, your are bound to catch something you wish you hadn’t.  That makes logical sense to most of us.  It’s therefore amazing that it’s not common sense in most parts of the world.

Had my blood checked (on my own), and found that my white blood cel count is still way low.  That means that my defenses are down.  I’m working on getting them back up, but until then, I should be a little careful about not contracting something that needs good defense work.

And that includes preferably not sticking money in my mouth.  It’s dirty.  But just about anywhere you go on several continents, food handlers exchange money in the middle of handling food.

The last trips I’ve made where to places where fresh fruit is abundant, beautiful, and delicious.  Only problem is that many places where it’s accessible and convenient, it’s handled by those who grab the flesh of the fruit and exchange money with the same bare hands.  And that’d be without washing.  Beautiful looking pineapple, mangoes, and papaya, cut by someone handling money and immediately grabbing just pealed fruit with those same hands.  Normal.  Happens all the time, in most of the world.

It can get a little disappointing being around delectable looking food that is obviously not handled properly.  Although seeing tempting, exotic food, especially when hunger signals are pinging, can make one weak.  It’s easy to give in.  But it’s playing the odds.  Not all money, if you lick it, will make you sick.  But there are enough nasty bacteria out there where it’s only a matter of time.  In a few decades of “giving in” I have gotten laid-out sick two or three times (feeling like death for a couple of days). And countless other times just not feeling good.  All the result of eating street food not handled properly.

But still sometimes you just close your eyes.  During my trips Hong Kong, I frequented a local night market.  I used to go there just for the food.  They close many of the streets in this one area and at one intersection, there are restaurants on each of the corners that serve some of the most fantastic seafood.  The only issue is that they wash the plates and silverware in buckets in the street curbside.  And it never looked like the water was so clean.  It was just something you closed your eyes to.  The seafood was that good.

The last time I was in Bangkok, famous for great looking, but not well handled street food, I had ordered a dish from a street vendor who appeared to be handling the food with utensils. Moreover, she was cooking on high heat. I got the food to go.  At the last minute I asked for two of the fried eggs that were on her griddle (to help moisten the rice).  Her helper was emptying buckets of dirty water into the street, picking the buckets up from the bottom with his hands. Because she was busy, she asked said helper to get the eggs for me. He put down a bucket and gently grabbed the eggs with his fingers and placed them atop my rice. No washing of fingers involved. I said thanks then dumped the takeaway in the next garbage can.

But more and more, it appears that food handlers on these continents are using plastic gloves. It’s encouraging, like there is good hygiene education going on. Then they will simply use the gloved hand to handle money.  When living in Mauritius, the challenge at lunch was to find food that was fairly quick, but that wasn’t handled by the same hands handling money.  Finally I found a sandwich shop with good looking sandwiches, and the guy making them had a plastic glove on one hand. I was excited, until he grabbed the sandwich I had selected with the plastic glove and then took my money with that same gloved hand and continued to help the next person.

Of course it’s what you don’t see as well.  Years ago I was in a food market in Cusco, Peru.  It was a market tucked away where tourist don’t normally go, but restauranteurs would.  I was standing in front of a meat counter watching the woman handling a large hunk of meat.  Then she accidentally dropped it on the floor, which was full of sawdust and other market floor stuff.  She promptly put it back on the cutting board and tried to brush off the dirt with her hands.  Most of it didn’t brush off.  That didn’t seem to bother her.  She put it back in the case.

Then, at another counter a woman was tending a large vat of soup.  It looked inviting.  Then a straggling dog moseyed over.  The dog looked old and more than flea bitten and had an open sore on his back with much of his hair missing.  The woman picked up a spatula next to the vat of soup, swatted the dog on the back, and then put the spatula in the soup and stirred.  Yum, I thought, the dog would have liked that soup.

And it goes without saying the some of us don’t use our intellect like we know we should.  I’ve certainly let my desire for immediate gratification get the best of me too many times.  A few years ago, a friend (fellow gringo) and I were traveling to a few different smaller towns (pueblos) in Colombia.  One evening, guess we had missed a meal, but we were both famished and we found a well visited restaurant in the central plaza of one of those pueblos.  My friend ordered a chicken dish.  There were about four nice size chunks of chicken on his plate (among other stuff). As he started cutting, the force of his downward knife stroke propelled one of those chunks off his plate, off the table, where it took a few rolls across the floor.  He quickly bent down and picked it up, took a napkin and started wiping it off and claimed “the 5 second” rule.  Now I think I’m taking a very solid, logical, semi-educated guess, but I don’t believe that bacteria have ever heard of nor play by that rule.  They play by a completely separate rule book which involves ways and times we might find hard to measure.  Anyway, I can remember his action putting a slight damper on my appetite.

That’s partial proof that the U.S. isn’t immune from improper food handling.  Over the recent years at least a half dozen times I’ve watched the seafood handlers at Whole Foods in New York handle raw fish with their gloved hands and then handle cooked fish with those same gloved hands.  Each time I’ve gone to a manager on duty and ask if they know that handling cooked food with gloves that have just handled raw food is not a good idea.  Each time they’ve gasped and said they would get “that situation” corrected immediately.  It took a couple of years to get corrected.

Point is, if you want to scratch your backside and then stick your fingers in your mouth, then who’s stopping you.  But if you are using your fingers to touch the food that other’s will stick in their mouths, then you have an obligation to have them damn clean.  Even or especially at home.  If I’m grabbing ice out of the freezer for myself, I can decide whether to wash my hands or not first.  But if I’m grabbing ice with my hands for someone else’s glass, and I don’t wash my hands, I’d be more than a little delinquent, lazy and irresponsible.  (unless that person believes in a 5-second rule).

They say that a certain amount of bad bacteria is not so bad.  At the same time, you don’t  go looking for trouble.  So the next time you buy already cut fruit, make sure it’s not bought with dirty money.

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