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Home --> Food --> Contaminated Food --> Urine Good Hands

Urine Good Hands

Claim:   Because some restaurant patrons don't properly wash their hands, traces of urine are commonly found in the bowl of the after-dinner mints by the cash register.

Status:   Undetermined.

Origins:   I don't know if the urine-on-mints story is true, but I do know many people believe it. Here are a couple of Ottawa Citizen news stories detailing how one community reacted to this "problem," the first from 22 April 1994:
Ottawa Councillor Richard Cannings has asked regional health officials to inspect the after-dinner mints restaurants often dispense next to the cash register. Cannings said his concerns are based on a Montreal newspaper article that said inspectors there had found traces of urine and fecal coliform bacteria in candy trays. Al Raven, director of health for Ottawa-Carleton, said no problem has ever been traced to the candy.
This second article comes from the 5 July 1994 paper:
Regional health officials have told restaurant owners to stop giving away unwrapped after-dinner mints. Inspectors have been checking for unwrapped candy in area restaurants since April when Ottawa Councillor Richard Cannings told them health inspectors in Montreal had found urine and fecal coliform bacteria in restaurant candy dishes, from bathroom-users who don't wash their hands. Al Raven, the region's director of environmental health, said staff could not confirm Cannings' report. Testing the candy would have been difficult, so inspectors told restaurant owners to give away only the wrapped kind, said Raven.
In July 1994, I spoke to a Public Health Officer of the Regional Municipality of Ottawa-Carleton's Department of Health. To the best of his knowledge, no one at RMOC had seen the report from health inspectors in Montreal that Councillor Cannings refered to, and no similar report had ever been put together in
Ottawa.

Even so, the Region decided to more strictly enforce existing rules because unwrapped mints are unsanitary and could pose a health risk. They did this by insisting restaurant owners either give away wrapped candy only or dispense unwrapped candy in a sanitary manner. (Please understand that there was no documentation in hand prompting them to take this action; they were but acting on the assumption urine could be there.)

Unwrapped mints could still be dispensed provided the method of delivery to the customer precluded more than one customer ever handling the same mint. For instance, one local restaurant dispensed unwrapped mints by way of a gumball machine. Since patrons did not get to handle more than one mint at a time, the Region was satisfied with this particular solution.

1994 fines for non-compliance were $53 per incident. After three or four such fines for health offences, the restaurant can be charged in court and fined on a larger scale.

The important point here is that no new legislation/bylaws/regulations were enacted to meet this "threat." Rather, a stricter observance of existing guidelines was adopted. The threat of urine and coliform fecal bacteria contamination might or might not be real, but RMOC decided to adopt a cautious stance that is more in line with other regulations for handling food in public restaurants.

Barbara "care for an 'after diner' mint?" Mikkelson

Sightings:   On 13 July 2005, while a guest on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno, Johnny Depp stated that a study done on bar peanuts revealed the presence of 27 different types of urine.

Last updated:   20 February 2007

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  Sources Sources:
    Brunvand, Jan Harold.   Too Good To Be True.
    New York: W. W. Norton, 1999.   ISBN 0-393-04734-2   (p. 174).

    The Ottawa Citizen.   "Cannings Worried by Restaurant Mint Bowls."
    22 April 1994   (p. C1).

    The Ottawa Citizen.   "Wrap After-Meal Mints, Restauranteurs Told."
    5 July 1994   (p. B1).