Experts agree that the surface germs of concern are those spread through the fecal-oral route. Anything that could end up in the toilet could potentially end up on the toilet tissue dispenser. There might be salmonella, Hepatitis A, norovirus or germs that cause diarrhea.

To minimize the threat of cross-contamination, toilet tissue dispensers should be disinfected daily. Tanner reports that one of the best things custodial departments can do is use an EPA-registered disinfectant on a consistent schedule.

Workers might challenge manager’s instructions to disinfect these surfaces, fearing chemical might attach to exposed tissue and affect restroom users. To address this concern, Tanner tested EPA-registered disinfectants at Antimicrobial Test Laboratories and says that if disinfectant spray would fall on the toilet tissue, he wouldn’t be all that concerned about the chemical exposure. The disinfectants go through a battery of tests. If anything, he says, the most extreme risk would be minor irritation of the skin, but even that is unlikely.

“I’d be much more concerned about the germ exposure if these surfaces were not cleaned and disinfected,” he says. “To put it into perspective. If you pick up Clostridium difficile (C. diff) from a toilet tissue dispenser, your odds of getting seriously ill are great. If you get chemical contamination from toilet tissue, you might have some dermal irritation, which doesn’t even come close to the ramifications of C. diff.”

To supplement the cleaning process, managers can install plastic toilet tissue dispensers, that are made with antimicrobial protection and inhibit the growth of bacteria and other microbes. Dispensers made of copper and its alloys (including brass and bronze) also offer antimicrobial protection.

A proper disinfecting program is essential and dispensers with antimicrobial protection can reduce the spread of microbes, but it is important to remember that a strong hand washing program can also reduce contamination. Anything spread via a toilet tissue dispenser shouldn’t be too much of an issue if restroom patrons wash up, says Gerba.

“People who touch a contaminated dispenser, then wash their hands are probably not at any great risk,” Tanner adds. “But people who touch a contaminated dispenser, then don’t wash their hands are probably at much greater risk of some of the infections.”

REBECCA KANABLE is a freelance writer based in Milton, Wis.

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