Worse? Human hands or cockroach?

I have a co-worker who has a phobia about other people handling something before giving it to him. The exact example where this came up today was his objection to how a waitperson at a restaurant brought a can of Diet Coke to him. The waitperson was carrying the can in such a way that the waitperson’s bare hand was in contact with the top rim of the can. Co-worker was irritated by this, and said:

“I’d rather have a can that I know a cockroach has been crawling around on top off, than a can that I know a stranger’s hands were all over.”

So, which is the greater of two evils? A strangers hands or a common average cockroach?

I wouldn’t be surprised if some scientific study showed that a cockroach was less germy than human hands.

That being said, it was really rude of him.

I would say the human hand would be worse, but neither of them would be anything I would care about. The human hand is a vector for any pathogens that would be harbored by a human, for example the owner of the hand in question. The average cockroach will go its entire lifetime without ever being exposed to any pathogens that are harmful to humans.

As for the staff in a restaurant that has cockroaches, there is no difference between the things that the hand has touched and the cockroach has walked on, so both would be carriers of the same pathogens. But the human waiter probably washes his hands more often than the cockroach.

Having said that, though, the human and the cockroach are both circulating in the environment of your everyday community, where you have already developed antibodies against virtually all the circulating pathogens, and it will do you no harm to eat things that have been dropped on the floor and stepped on., So the only relevant issue would be newly introduced agents, like a seasonal flu, which is much more likely to be carried by a waiter than a cockroach.

I’m not sure I would take that bet - cockroaches clean themselves meticulously, much like cats. Of course, they don’t have access to soap…

If you’ve ever tipped a cockroach fifty bucks for a happy ending, you know the answer.

The cockroach is by far the worse, though in either case I’d simply wipe the top of the can off, pour it into a glass, and be done with it.

If I drank soft drinks from a can, that is. Which I don’t.

Does he refuse to shake hands?

This article says cockroaches are cleaner, after swabbing a human, a roach and using a control. It appears they only used a sample of 1 though.

Still, gross.

Is he aware those cans are handled by quite a few people before they even get to the restaurant? Does he just not want to be reminded of how dirty everything is? With a phobia like that, why would he not just carry around Lysol wipes everywhere he goes?

Not necessarily. I’ve been to a Reynolds Aluminum plant where cans are made, a separate plant where the tops are made and a Coke plant where the cans are filled and it’s all highly automated and they run at amazingly high speeds. The only cans that get touched by human hands are those that are pulled off the line for quality control testing. Not to mention that the lids and cans are washed by Coke before they’re filled and sealed. Even packaging up to the level of wrapped pallets is fully automated.

Nothing smaller than a case would be sold to a restaurant, so it’s entirely possible that the cans have never been touched by human hands until they get to the restaurant and the case is unwrapped. Not that it really matters.

When I used to work the beer warehouse (distributor) years ago, we’d stand on top of the beer cans for stacking, etc. Six-packs with exposed tops. And there were roaches and tobacco spit on the floor.

Having seen what happens to cans in transit, my guess is that the contribution of the cockroach or the human could be low compared to what the can was carrying to begin with. Anyone who cares about germs should assume the top of the can isn’t clean.

Personally, I believe in eating a few germs every day to keep my immune system healthy, so I don’t sweat it, and so far that’s worked pretty well for me.

I’ve always assumed that gross things happen to the top of the can. Sometimes you can even see dust and other gunk (not usually, but I’ve seen it before). I usually don’t care unless it’s visibly disgusting, but I have to admit these provide a little peace-of-mind regardless.

And did he accuse the waiter of raping the can?

jtur88 seems to be questioning how often the human waiter washes the cockroach, not how often the cockroach washes itself.

We knew it! A few germs a day keeps the doctor away!

Every day (well, on days when I’m feeling particularly organized), I start the day by jotting down my plans for the day, including the day’s menu. Yesterday, for example, I had oatmeal topped with ptomaine for breakfast, and salmonella chicken gumbo for dinner. Today, I’m just taking it easy and being unorganized, so for my germs I’m just randomly licking up whatever’s on the floor. I’ll never know exactly what germs I’m getting. I only know what germs I don’t get when I come down with this disease or that disease.

Ultimately, I do think the human hands are dirtier and more dangerous to another human from infection standpoint.

But addressing this particular article, I kind of wonder where the cockroach swab was taken from. Human hands are one of the most infectious parts of our bodies - we’re constantly touching other parts of our bodies and the thick, ridged skin provides lots of places for critters to hide. Other than a genital or oral swab, hands are going to as dirty as it gets. If we took a swab from your back, shoulder or thigh, we’d come out with a much cleaner result.

So the cockroach test could be skewed if we’re not making sure to swab a similarly dirty part of a cockroach.

For the OP’s co-worker: unless the can was just washed in bleach before it came out, it’s quite likely that it was exposed to far, far worse things while in the warehousing and transportation system, before it even arrived at the restaurant. Like rodent urine. Let him stew on that!

The mental image of a waiter rinsing a struggling, thrashing cockroach in a restaurant kitchen sink, whistling a tune, made me laugh out loud.

When I was a waiter, I always, always made sure to handle glasses and such at the bottom third. The coworker may have been rude in the way he expressed the sentiment, but it’s one shared by a lot of people to at least some degree.

Cockroaches are a bit more harmful than that, at least some of the time. Not so much an individual cockroach walking across your soda can, but where they are found in numbers. --And there’s never just one cockroach.


I have a system for dealing with assorted pathogens, it’s 4 billion years old, sometimes called the immune system. I’ve eaten in places most people in the “civilized” world wouldn’t want to take a cr*p, but the only times I’ve had food poisoning were after eating in upmarket restaurants in NYC.