In his Good Weekend column earlier this year, Benjamin Law addressed the topic of germs. Specifically, the gross places and things we put our shoes through — and then happily tread through the house, let the dog lick, put up on the bed, etc.
For some of us, the thought has probably never our minds. Yet for others, like Law’s mum, there are strict preventative regulations in place.
“Like all Chinese households, we grew up in a no-shoes-indoors family. If you enter any Asian dwelling with your shoes on, I can assure you that everyone there will silently judge you, and regard you as they would some disgusting garbage animal,” writes Law.
There are certainly some disgusting findings to back this up. A 2008 study by the University of Arizona examined 26 pairs of shoes and found an average of over 400,000 bacteria across nine different strains. One of these was E-coli, which can cause vomiting and bloody diarrhoea — and it was detected on more than a quarter of the tested shoes.
Watch The Glow team share their office passive-aggressive reminders about gross habits. (Post continues after video.)
So what is the real risk of getting sick from the average bacteria-ridden shoes? Should all household be implementing a strictly enforced “no-shoes-past-the-door-mat” policy?
According to Microbiologist and Director of Research of the Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences at Monash University, Dr Ross Coppel, the risk may be slightly overstated.
“There are bacteria everywhere in the environment, the vast majority of which are harmless to humans. We are constantly exposed to bacteria all day every day and our bodily systems, including a normal immune system, takes care of all the challenges,” he says.
In fact, bacteria are one of our most important protective mechanisms. They’re constantly doing things that improve our nutritional state and keep our bodily systems working as they should in a mutually beneficial partnership.
That said, there are dangerous bacteria that can cause serious diseases if they get inside our bodies. (Post continues after gallery.)
“Most E. coli are pretty harmless but there are some that can be dangerous because they make toxins. You usually become infected by E. coli either from those you carry or from those you swallow. It is unlikely that getting them on your bedclothes would lead to infection,” Dr Coppel explains.
The grossest part? E.coli are typically an indication of fecal contamination. Yes, poo.
“If your shoes have E. coli on them, then leaving them on your bed is sort of like having a little bit of poo on your doona cover. Unlikely to be dangerous to your health but not aesthetically appealing,” he says.
Dr Coppel points to cultures like Japan, where etiquette insists you leave your shoes outside the door of the house. While coincidentally they are generally regarded as healthy countries, he believes there are many other contributing factors such as the consumption of less food and diets high in veggies and fish.
So is it really worth removing your shoes?
"In theory this prevents the tracking in of whatever undesirable germs or substances may have been picked up on the soles of your footwear. In practice it has not really been shown that this results in any health benefit, except in societies where there is poor sewage and the exterior is heavily contaminated. In such instances, footwear may contaminate the internal environment," Dr Coppel says.
An situation one could argue is the exception is if you have young children, who are potentially more susceptible to infection as their immune systems have not built up comparable resistance.
"However, there is a balance to be found as obsessive concern with cleanliness and the use of bleaches and other agents to keep the house spotless risks making children more susceptible to infections, more prone to allergy and just more finicky and paranoid," says Dr Coppel.
Admitting he personally rarely removes his shoes at home, he emphasises that ensuring one's hands are clean - particularly during food preparation - is the most important thing. Bare feet optional.
Do you have a strict "no-shoes" policy at home?