Do you take off your shoes when you come home? The vast majority of cultures around the world are used to ditching shoes at the door for mostly hygienic reasons — you don’t want to track all the muck from the street into where you eat and sleep. Oddly this custom is a lot less standardized in the USA (and the UK to an extent). Well new studies from around the world have looked into what exactly is on our shoes when we traipse around the house and it’s probably going to make you reconsider kicking off the sneaks.
Researchers at the University of Houston studied our shoes and found that they’re havens for bacteria. Sure, not all bacteria is bad and a healthy microbiome is essential to a well-balanced life, but the research here focused on the pathogenic bacteria that we pick up on the soles of our shoes. Specifically the team looked for Clostridium difficile, or C. diff.
C. diff. is one of the more severe bacteria out there and in 2011 alone “it was responsible for nearly a half-million infections in the U.S. that resulted in some 29,000 deaths” according to the CDC. Which, for comparisons sake, is close to the same amount of Americans who die from guns and car accidents every year — 32,251 and 33,561 respectively around the same time period. So, yeah, that bacteria is a killer and according to the research it’s on “26.4 percent of shoe soles.”
This research backs up similar studies of shoes done in Europe over the last couple years. In 2015, an Austrian study discovered that “40 percent” of shoes carry Listeria monocytogenes. That’s a food borne pathogenic bacteria that can lead to Listeriosis. It’s most commonly found in unpasteurized animal proteins like cheese. The CDC says that this is the “third leading cause of death from foodborne illness, or food poisoning.” So, theoretically, that last bout of food poisoning you endured might well have come from your shoes.
Also, and this should not at all be shocking, a German study from 2014 “found that over a quarter of boots used on farms carried E.coli.” Which that sounds really obvious since farms are awash in feces.
Now you might be thinking ‘I wipe my feet vigorously on the welcome mat before I enter the house. Take that dumb science!” Well, Dr, Garey, the head of the study in Houston points out that wiping your shoes will certainly remove the surface dirt, “but you have to think of the person who wiped their feet before. You might be picking [up] stuff they left behind.” So your mat might be helping spread pathogenic bacteria to your shoes that can then spread throughout your house.
Before you run out and get anti-bacterial cleanser for your house, remember that they are only talking about pathogenic bacteria. You don’t need to kill all bacteria, that’s really bad for you. What’s also bad is spreading pathogens around your house by simply not taking off your shoes at the door. Dr. Garey also points out that we have “far less bacteria in our shoes than on them.”
(Via The Wall Street Journal)