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Dirty cash: Problem of filthy and drug-coated cash won't go away after 2016
The world's coins and bank notes change hands hundreds of times each year, and are a haven for germs and filth. That's the view of a British cleaning company which warns that the public should wash their hands after handling money - particularly if they're using cash to buy food on the go.
ContractCleaning.co.uk says that the public is generally unaware of the lifespan of cash, and blanks out the fact that the pound (or whatever currency is being used) in their pocket could have been anywhere before it got there."Coins can last up to 40 years," says the company's spokesman Mark Hall, "And we dare say the only time the vast majority were clean was on the day they were minted."
Bank notes in the UK last anything from a year to five years, depending on their denomination. According to ContractCleaning.co.uk, the five pound note, due to be replaced in 2016 by a polymer version featuring Winston Churchill, are the most likely to wear out, passing through different hands several times a day in many cases.
"The only time notes ever get cleaned is if they're put through the wash by mistake," quips Mark, "and that tends to be for the first and last time for that particular banknote.
Repeated studies have proven time and again that both bank notes and coins are covered in bacteria and germs that could cause illness.
The most recent research, carried out by London's Queen Mary University in 2012, showed that:
- A quarter of bank notes and half of credit cards are covered in germs
- Fourth-fifths of both notes and credit cards had traces of bacteria
The study found the E.coli bacteria was present on £5, £10 and £20 notes. The five pound note is more likely to be found in tills and is less likely to be banked, meaning that it stays in circulation longer and is more likely to pick up dirt and germs than other notes. The same can be said for lower denomination coins, which are more likely to be found in pockets than elsewhere.
"The main risk from infection comes when cash is used to buy food-to-go over the counter," says Mark.
"If the person who is selling the food is also passing cash through the till, then it's obvious that good hygiene breaks down. Gloves and tongs are a must for food service, so the two never come together."
Mark also points to a huge public blindspot about food hygiene: "The buyer is also handling cash of dubious cleanliness before using the same unwashed hands to eat the food they've just bought."
The small but significant risk from dirty money should be enough to encourage takeaway food retailers to offer hand-washing facilities to customers.
"The public should certainly get into the habit of washing their hands after handling cash," says Mark. "It's like picking up food off the floor - you don't know where it's been."
ContractCleaning.co.uk is of the opinion that with more transactions being carried out without the need for cash - either online, or through chip-and-pin payments, people can largely reduce their contact with grubby notes and small change with years of ground-in dirt.
"Incidentally, we found that chip-and-pin machines are even more likely to carry harmful germs than bank notes," warns Mark. "Maybe the way ahead is through the contactless payment."
20th March 2014