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Dirty Money

You've always heard it, and according to scientific research, it's true (Gadsby, 1998; Michaels, 2002). MONEY IS DIRTY! Because it is used over and over and touched by many contaminated hands, money is a prime carrier for pathogens. It has the potential for transmitting organisms to food, if appropriate personal hygiene is not followed when handling money and ready-to-eat food.

Over time, research has produced some startling facts about just how dirty money is. Studies have shown that both paper money and coins are often contaminated with potential pathogens, including E. coli, Shigella, Staphylococcus and Enterococcus species, along with various yeast and fungi.

In several studies of E. coli and Salmonella enteritidis, it was demonstrated that coins could serve as potential vehicles for transmission of pathogens even up to a few days after contamination.

E. coli has been found to survive for up to 11 days on some US coins.

Jiang X, Doyle MP. (1999). Fate of Escherichia coli O157:H7 and Salmonella Enteritidis on Currency. J Food Prot, 62(7):805- 807.

With all the contaminants on money, there are several practical tips to make sure that potentially dangerous bacteria are not passed, particularly when handling food.

  • To prevent contaminants from being passed to food from money, wash hands after handling bills and coins and before touching food. Always dry hands with paper towels.
  • Many food operations use gloves while handling money. Gloves should be changed frequently between tasks to avoid cross-contamination. Always wash hands when changing gloves.
  • Do not touch fingers to mouth and face before, during and after counting bills. This practice places the money counter and customers at risk.
Healthful Hint:

The most important factor in keeping contaminants to a minimum is to remember that everything you touch, whether it's money, food, or clothing has the potential for causing cross-contamination. Proper hand washing and drying is the biggest key in prevention.

Gadsby P. (1998). Filthy Lucre: Bugs, drugs, and grime hitch a ride on the back of every buck. Discover, October 1998 issue, pp. 76-84.

Michaels B. (2002). Handling money and serving ready-to-eat food. Food Service Technology 2(1):1-3.