Tuesday, December 29, 2009


It's almost 2010, and you'd think we, the human race, would have become better at controlling the spread of germs by now. But as I witness my fellow man, I can say, unevquivocally, that we could, and should, be doing this much better.
Forget about the people walking around sneezing, coughing, and 'clearing their throat,' without covering their mouths, that's not my target today - too obvious. These people should know better.
There is a dangerous, potentially germ-transmitting activity that I observe frequently, and I beleive that the people performing this unsanitary act do not know better. It is something that you have very likely seen, and maybe you've even noticed. But maybe not. If you've noticed it, you may have let it slide, paid it no heed, let it go, chalked it up to 'oh, well.'
In nearly every checkout counter in the USA, merchandise is placed into plastic bags made of hi-density polyethylene, the ones that 'crinkle.' The bags are very hard to open, as fingers seem to slip right off, without opening. Until, that is, the clerk licks his or her fingers and the bag opens easily and she can pack out your purchases. What's on her fingers? Where have they been? Handling money? Who did that money come from before it got to the cashier? Were they healthy? Does she have a cold? A virus? The flu? Worse? You go home and carry that bag. You get home and handle the bag some more. You may or may not touch the part of the bag that was, let's say, contaminated.
I have personally observed this behavior at major retailers, including Sears, Ikea, and Target. I've seen it at smaller merchants, such as the neighborhood hardware store, the bagel store, and the card store. I once asked the card store clerk for another bag, one that she didn't lick. She looked surprised, and I saw that she didn't even realize that she had done that. She apologized, and gave me a new bag, but her fingers had already been licked, right?
Why do we need to be exposed to this disgusting practice? I think it's mostly due to ignorance; it's probably not intentional or mean-spirited, I think it's simply a lack of awareness. This needs to be addressed. This needs to be controlled by the Board of Health, OSHA, even litigated by our lawmakers. While they're at it, they need to include cashiers licking their fingers to help them count out currency.
I have seen this situation properly remedied at several establsishments - grocery stores, farmstands, and bodegas, for example. They will keep a cut pickle, lemon, or a sponge in arm's reach, and touch that instead of licking their fingers. That is, however, the exception, as far as I've seen.
It was fairly awkward for me to ask that card store clerk for a different bag. The onus should be placed on the merchant to provide the cashier with a mechanism to wet his or her fingers. Protect the public if you want to stay in business.
Prevent the pandemic.

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