Crowded. That was the first thing I noticed when my family and I went to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens over the holidays. As we moved through the busy theatre with popcorn in hand to our seats, it struck me just how many people were packed together – at least, a couple hundred. By the time the preshow started, there wasn’t an empty seat in the house.
Call it a professional hazard, but as the lights went down and the doors closed, I realized that I was about to spend the next couple hours in a germ hot spot. Don’t get me wrong; we’re exposed to all types of microorganisms everywhere all the time. So I got to thinking, what makes a movie theatre any worse?
A quick disclaimer, if you’re a movie buff and don’t want to hinder your future movie experiences – don’t read any further. On the other hand, if you want the facts, here are the top 3 infection prevention tips for your next cinema outing.
Forget the nutritional nightmare of movie snacks and give some thought to food safety. Foodborne illness is no laughing matter – especially when it affects you personally. Pre-packaged snacks are great but what about the foods that need to be handled by theatre employees such as popcorn, nachos and hot dogs.
Movie theatres should be following the same food safety standards as restaurants, which include storing food at appropriate temperatures and keeping food-preparation tools clean and sanitary.
One good tip is to pay close attention to the cleanliness of the snack bar and how food is being handled. If things are not up to par, and you’re really hungry – play it safe and opt for the packaged candy.
Also, remember that handrails, door handles and countertops can be covered with germs that could make you sick. If you plan to snack, use common sense and wash your hands before you put anything in your mouth. Soap and water work best but if the movie is about to start you can also use a hand sanitizer.
Did you know that one in every five people who use the washroom – don't wash their hands? In fact, only about 30% of those washing their hands use soap. The CDC may recommend 15-20 seconds of vigorous hand washing with soap and water to kill germs, but do you really see people doing this in public washrooms the majority of the time?
The result is that fecal matter including bacteria such as E. coli can be found on just over a quarter of our hands. One recent study found a “disturbing amount of fecal and stool organisms” on movie theatre seats as well. Now some cinemas do steam clean their seats a number of times per year, but with 3 or 4 shows a day, seven days a week – does it make much of a difference?
One good tip, if you eat popcorn, remember not to touch the armrest or any part of the seat unless you plan to wash or sanitize your hands. The floor is also another area where you should be very cautious as fecal matter has been found there also. Consider holding your purse or bag in your lap and if you put your popcorn on the ground – just leave it there.
Speaking of great movies, have you ever seen “Contagion” which came out back in 2011? It follows the progress of an airborne virus that ultimately unravels society. It's fictional of course, but one of the most obvious public health hazards at movies is the passing of airborne pathogens such as the common flu.
The average big-screen movie theatre has 200-300 seats and could easily have ten plus screens per venue. That means the chances of being exposed to influenza on a busy Saturday night is a real possibility.
If someone near you is coughing and sneezing, consider moving. It might sound extreme but remember that someone’s cough or sneeze can travel up to eight feet, and these viruses can live on surfaces for up to eight hours.
The best tip is to follow flu prevention best practice such as getting your flu shot and always making sure your hands are clean. If you’re feeling sick, please do us all a favour and skip the movie.
As a final note, if you’re taking precautions there’s no reason to get worried about how scary the movie theatre can be for germs, even during flu season. It’s good to know the facts, but please do remember to sit back, relax and enjoy your movie experience.
This article was originally posted on LinkedIN Pulse: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/top-3-infection-prevention-tips-movies-patrick-boshell
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