Cultureguru's Weblog

Of food, technology, movies, music, and travel—or whatever else strikes my fancy

The office water cooler could kill you


I’m a fan of the Food Network’s Food Detectives. I record it every week. On Food Detectives, they do experiments to solve those nagging questions, such as, is there any validity to the 5-second rule? (No.) Does eating turkey actually make you sleepy? (No.) Do you really eat less if you use smaller plates? (Yes.)

It’s great because it combines two of my favourite things: facts and food. Facts are good because I can then recite them and look smart. And food… Well, everything is good about food: eating it, cooking it, reading about it, talking about it, even watching it on TV.

So a recent test they did was of public water fountains. Just how bacteria-filled is the water from those things?

Actually, not that bacteria-filled at all. They’re cleverly designed such that the water arcs out of them, not really coming into contact with the spout. As long as your mouth touches only the water, not the spout (some people don’t, so the spouts do end up somewhat bacterial), you’ll be fine.

The water from the office water coolers, though… woah. Bacteria city! Not so well designed. Activated by bacteria-covered hands. In contact with reused, improperly cleaned water bottles… And rarely cleaned. Result was much worse than any of the tested public fountains.

Now I haven’t used the office water cooler in years. I’d like to say it was because of a well thought-out concern about bacterial contamination, but actually, it was because of a completely paranoid concern about water sitting in plastic for so long potentially picking up carcinogens. So instead I’ve been drinking bubbly water out of glass bottles, which I hope is slightly more environmental than plastic bottles–but I’m not sure.

At any rate, I have been remarkably cold- and flu-free the past few years. And it seems that, at least partly, this is why.

3 thoughts on “The office water cooler could kill you

  1. Hey, I just thought I would let you know, I saw that episode you are talking about and it’s awesome they did that study. One thing they missed though, is this; the main reason water coolers are so nasty isn’t because of the reasons listed (though they do contribute substantially, don’t get me wrong). The main reason they are so contaminated is because they “burp”, or suck in air through the spigot to equalize the pressure, so that they can keep dispensing water. Well guess what happens when they suck that air in? They also suck in EVERYTHING in the air. So if somebody hanging out in that same room sneezes, or even breathes near it, really…doom.

  2. Any ideas on the new ice and water dispensers being used now instead of the water coolers? myself and several others seem to start coughing, have throat issues or loose our voice only after we start drinking our filtered dispensed water later in the day. None of us are “sick”. I never do that at home or elsewhere. Finally decided to bring my own, ran out and when working late tried the water again and immediately had issues. How do you test and what do you test for?

    • I do not have any ideas about that — except that if there is any risk that people can touch where the water comes out with potentially unwashed hands or bottles, you could have a problem. On Food Detectives, they had a scientist come in and do swabs to test in a lab; it wasn’t a do-it-yourself thing.

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