By Dr. Dave Hnida

(CBS4) -You head off to a holiday party, and sooner or later you’re bound to spy a potential public health threat. The notorious “double-dipper.”

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the iconic “Seinfeld” episode and George Costanza, a double dipper is a thoughtless or lazy sneak who dips a chip, takes half a bite, then jams the contaminated chip back into the bowl for a refill. (“It’s like putting your whole mouth into the dip!”).

You can’t double-dip the chip! from seinfeldgifs

It could be a friend, neighbor, family member … or stranger with a mouth filled with unknown species of viruses and bacteria.

And the phenomenon is more common than you might imagine. Even though you or I don’t do it, one survey noted 55% of people admittedly went from “dip to chip to lip then back.”  Ewww.

Yet is double dipping truly a big deal, at least from a health standpoint?

Consider some research:

The mouth contains thousands of bacteria and viruses, some good, some not so good.

Germs such as flu, strep, the common cold, and herpes can live in the mouth even though a person isn’t sick yet or even showing signs of illness.

It’s not only chips, but celery, carrots, crackers, and other foods that can be used for scooping what-you-hope-is –healthy dip.

And research shows that the dip typically starts out with a bacterial count of zero. Dip a single time, and remains germ-free. Reuse the chip, or whatever the scooping implement, and BANG: hello germs.

How many? About 3,000-10,000 bugs per swoop.

Plus, the type of dip does make a difference when it comes to numbers. Salsa is the worst offender since it tends to be more watery, so germs just slide back off of the half eaten chip back into the dip. Cheese, or queso, and chocolate dips tend to transfer a little less since they are thicker in texture.

Back to the basic question. If you go to a gathering with a double dipper, does it mean you’ll get sick by sharing a dip that is laced with a side of saliva?

Odds are no. That’s because your own mouth’s good bacteria will wipe out most of the contaminants that comes its way. Frankly, you’re more likely to get sick from touching surfaces like doorknobs, computers, and countertops that have been contaminated by bacteria and viruses. (and don’t forget about handshakes and hugs).

But then again, the risk isn’t zero. A lot of germs out there these days, and people are… people.

Hosting or heading to a party, consider these suggestions from food safety experts:

  • Use individual plates for people to put their own dip on, instead of having a community dip bowl.
  • Use only bite-size food items. You can buy chips that are one-bite sized and still scoopable.
  •  Do the same with vegetables by cutting them smaller.
  • If you see someone double dipping kindly hand them a plate and ask (tell) them to use it.
  • If you have been sick within the past 2-3 days, consider taking a pass on the get-together.
  • Don’t forget, in situations like a party, hand sanitizer is your best friend.

Bottom line, double dipping is probably not going to kill you. But why take the chance with someone else’s saliva?

And if you are a notorious double dipper, please keep your half-used chip out of the communal dip. The world thanks you.

Dr. Dave Hnida


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