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Flush with germs

Barbecue grill has more microbes than toilet

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I have good news and bad news for anyone who enjoys turning expensive cuts of meat into charred lumps of carbon on their backyard grill.

Let's start with the good news: Today is the final day of National Barbecue Month, so there is still time for you to celebrate and prove to your family and friends you are a grilling god.

Now here's the bad news: According to British researchers, the average barbecue grill is home to more than twice as many germs as the typical toilet seat, which explains why so many of your family and friends die an agonizing death whenever you invite them over for a fun-filled backyard barbecue.

The study, conducted for a U.K. cleaning-products company in a sincere and humanitarian effort to get people to buy more of their cleaning products, discovered 1.7 million microbes per 100 sq. cm of an average grill's surface, which is -- and in a journalistic effort to be unduly alarming I will now engage my keyboard's caps lock button -- 124 PER CENT MORE THAN THE SURFACE OF AN AVERAGE TOILET SEAT!

"To help keep the family safe, I would suggest cleaning and disinfecting garden furniture and barbecues prior to use," hygiene expert Dr. Lisa Ackerley is quoted as saying in a Daily Mail news story I partially understood.

For safety reasons, the researchers also recommend that, for the time being, you should do all your outdoor cooking on a toilet as opposed to a barbecue.

OK, I made that last bit up. Although, and this is the truth, I could grill on a toilet if I wanted to. This is because a couple of years ago my wife, She Who Must Not Be Named, decided to replace the perfectly fine toilet in our main bathroom with one of those low-flow models that requires users to flush up to 3,000 times to get the job done, so to speak.

My role was to physically drag our old toilet into the alley and leave it to be picked up by the crackerjack company that has been hired to remove our garbage on the days when they remember to do that.

Anyway, this was a heavy toilet, so I abandoned it in the middle of our yard and went back inside to watch sports. Instead of getting angry, my wife filled the old toilet with potting soil and turned it into an attractive planter, meaning, if I had the inclination (which I don't), I could easily swap the soil for charcoal briquettes and use the ex-commode to grill some hopefully germ-free hotdogs and hamburgers.

But that's not today's health and safety point. Today's point is that, according to the U.K. researchers, the problem is only 36 per cent of the 1,400 respondents in their study said they clean their grill more than twice a year, whereas toilets are scrubbed a whole lot more.

This does not surprise me, and I know what I am talking about because last summer I became a "certified barbecue judge" after taking a course conducted by the Kansas City Barbecue Society, so I am entitled to put the letters "CBJ" after my name, which never fails to impress friends whose only accomplishment is graduating from medical school.

As a CBJ, I am aware barbecue maintenance tends to be the responsibility of guys like me; whereas -- and feel free to call me a sexist pig because I can't hear you -- our spouses are routinely stuck with the unenviable task of ensuring toilets are (Ha ha!) clean enough to eat off.

From what I have observed in my own home, women have almost zero tolerance for dirt, whereas guys are perfectly happy wallowing in filth, which explains why the average barbecue grill ends up with a thick coating of gunk formed from blackened hotdog and hamburger molecules that builds up, summer after summer, and is even tougher to clean up than a Canadian senator's expense account.

As proof of the innate male ability to tolerate dirt, I will point out that, when my son was a toddler, we took a video of him on the beach. At one point, as we stared into the camera's tiny view screen, he stooped, scooped up a handful of muck, and happily jammed it in his mouth.

My wife was horrified, but, being a guy, I informed her it is medically important for kids to ingest several football fields worth of germ-intensive dirt to build up their immune systems.

If I sound medically ignorant here, feel free to fire off an angry email, keeping in mind another U.K. study found computer keyboards carry up to five times more bacteria than a toilet seat. So, please, wear gloves.

I don't care whether you cook on a barbecue or a toilet. Just remember to close the lid.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 31, 2013 A2

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