If you’re like me (or perhaps, Daniel Day Lewis), there’s nothing like the joy of an ice cold milkshake in the middle of summer (for those of you who are lactose intolerant, make it a fruit smoothie). And, as we all know, there’s one thing that we cannot do without when it comes to enjoying (and sharing) this delicious treat.

A straw.

Straws have been an integral part of our world for over 120 years and are imperative in our everyday milkshake, soft drink and Slurpee drinking lives.  Who cannot remember the first time they sat down to a large glass (or plastic covered cup) and relished the taste of the sweet and cold slurry as it crept up through the straw and onto a receptive and yearning tongue?

To make the experience even more enjoyable, straws have been designed to be clean and fresh for immediate use.  Most are individually wrapped or placed into a container that has to be pushed, pulled or prodded to gain access.  And as a lover of milkshakes, I can tell you that my mouth salivates even more as I open up the wrapper or see the straw appear after a push of the container.  The best part of a straw? if it gets dirty, say by dropping it on the floor or the dirt, we’re usually able to get a brand new one at little cost and effort. After all, who wants to drink out of a dirty straw, right?

What I find amazing is that this small, insignificant piece of modern day luxury has more to offer in terms of hygiene education than one might think.

It’s a simple concept.  Take any old fashioned straw, and cut it so that it’s as long as the middle finger. Now, tape the straw to the finger and go about any normal routine activities. After say, ten minutes, or thirty, or an hour or even two, take off the straw and use it to drink a beverage of your choice.

I know…gross!

Here’s the rub:

Think about the last time you put your finger in your mouth, or rubbed your eyes, or placed them near (or inside) your nose. When had you last washed your hands before you did this rather innocuous task?  Ten minutes? An hour? Two?  When was the last time you removed the same germs on your hands that you would so easily avoid on the straw?

There seems to be a disconnect between our view of germs on objects and the bodies of others and those on our own hands, fingers, hair and other body parts. There have been studies in health care that show it’s more of a “it won’t happen to me” mentality (an example abstract is here).  Others have suggested that it’s a sense of individualism and others recognize that many people just don’t seem to care about their own health or that of others.

Whatever the reasons, I most certainly believe that if everyone tried this little experiment, they would better understand the impact of germs on the hands (and skin) and would be more than willing to find the best ways possible to keep hands ‘new straw clean.’

The only question left to be asked is: chocolate, vanilla, or strawberry?