Finger study might be a good cause for panic

January 25, 1995|By MIKE ROYKO

It's been a few days since the last terrifying food report. I believe a study showed that eating too much turkey can cause severe sneezing attacks if you fail to first remove the feathers.

So if you are looking for something to worry about, you might consider the concerns of Hank Blumenthal.

The Blumenthals dine out a lot, and Blumenthal says he has noticed something that bothered him enough to bring it to my attention and suggest that the public be made aware of it.

"Have you ever gone to the men's room in a nice restaurant," he says, "and observed how few men wash their hands before leaving?"

I had to admit that I pay little attention to who does or doesn't wash their hands. It's always been a matter of indifference to me, since I seldom ask the waiter to bring me a plate of customer fingers.

Blumenthal agreed that the decision whether to wash one's hands is a private matter, unless a person is going to put his fingers in your food or mouth.

"In general, it is their own business," Blumenthal said. "However, I have a problem with those fellows who then stop by the reception counter and plunge their fingers into the mint candy dish and poke around until they find the flavor they want.

"I became aware of this situation recently when, after I washed my hands, another gentleman who had just zipped up exited the men's room at the same time as I, but stopped at the counter for a handful of candy before leaving.

"I have since become aware of this practice by some of my fellow diners. I have made a somewhat informal study of the men who come out of the washroom and let their fingers do the walking in the candy dish.

"A fair percentage of them wash their hands first, but others don't.

"As a result of my observations, I now skip the mints unless they are wrapped. I would just as soon stop somewhere else and buy myself a Snickers bar.

"But I thought you might be interested in following up my observations with an investigation.

"You might get a half-empty dish of candy from a few restaurants and have them examined by an independent laboratory and publish a urinalysis report on the findings."

Yes, I suppose an investigation of this sort could result in a potentially sensational headline: "Wee-Wee Germs Found On Bistro Mints! Dining Slobs Blamed!"

But there could be other headlines too: "Columnist Caught Lurking Near Restaurant Washrooms!" Or, "Columnist Seized Stealing Restaurant Mints!"

After I spoke to Blumenthal, I passed along his concerns to a restaurant operator, Sam Sianis, of the Billy Goat.

Sianis nodded and said: "I never eat mints in a restaurant."

Because you fear that they are contaminated by the fingers of those who don't wash their hands?

"No," he said, "because mints make me burp."

Giving it further thought, Sianis said: "Restaurants shouldn't put mint candy out like that."

Because of the threat of contamination?

"No," he said, "because if you give free candy some cheapskates won't order dessert."

Although he does not provide free mints, Sianis said he once had a problem with his mustard, which he puts out for hamburger eaters, along with onions and pickles.

"This woman is standing by the counter and she asks me if I have Grey Poupon. I told her I have American yellow, and it is better than Grey Poupon.

"So she puts her finger in the mustard pan. I ask her, 'Why you do that?' She says she wants to know how it tastes before she puts it on a hamburger. I told her that she shouldn't do that because I don't know where that finger has been.

"Her boyfriend says, 'Are you telling my girlfriend that there is something wrong with her finger?' I said, 'I don't know where her finger has been, and I don't know where your finger has been.' Nowadays, how do you know? So I have to put out a whole new pan of mustard.

"So the girlfriend said, 'I have never been talked to that way before.' And I told her, 'Well, you go around putting your finger in other people's mustard, and you'll get talked to that way a lot, and maybe you will also get a broken finger.'

"So the boyfriend says, 'Are you threatening my girlfriend?'

"And I picked up my biggest knife and said: 'No, not your whole girlfriend; only her finger.'

"After that, neither of them put their fingers in the mustard again. See, you explain things to people nice, they understand."

How true. In the meantime, though, we might be wise to skip the mints.

But Blumenthal, a man with sharp powers of observation, also said: "I sometimes wonder if the same threat exists with the bartender who tops off my vodka martini with a lemon twist.

"Of course, the alcohol would probably kill any germs. That's one of the benefits of a martini."

Advertising men can feel free to use that thought in a commercial.

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