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Salt and pepper grinder phobia


I suppose restaurants that have these grinders on the table, especially the disposable grinders, do so out of some notion that fresh ground is better. Perhaps so, but I'd rather not have to handle grinders on the table. It is rare that they are washed or cleaned between diners, and by the feel of some of them they aren't even washed from day to day. I have the same aversion to regular salt & pepper shakers that aren't kept clean, but the grinders especially bug me, since it is usually necessary to grip a grinder with force, and more of the flesh of one's hand is exposed to the surfaces of the grinder. Eating with that hand after handling the grinder is difficult for me. Do others feel the same way, or is this over the top?

  1. It never occurred to me to worry about this, but if you do, why not just pick up your napkin and hold the grinder with it?

    3 Replies
    1. re: small h

      This will only transfer the flesh particles of dozens of doubtlessly diseased strangers onto your cloth napkin, which you will use to wipe your hands and mouth throughout the meal.

      The only solution is to bring your own disinfectant, disposable cloths, and a portable incinerator.

      1. re: DeppityDawg

        Or just ask for a fresh napkin. Too easy?

        1. re: DeppityDawg

          Good Lord- why leave your house? Disease and people shreds abound!

      2. Doesn't bother me in the least. I'd say either wash your hands after, bring disinfectant or bring your own salt and pepper grinders or little takeaway packages. I've actually never encountered a restaurant with a grinder on the table, usually the waiter does it or its a shaker and not a grinder. If I did encounter a grinder I wouldn't even think about it.

        1. Not a bother to me. I wouldn't expect it to be any worse than many of the other surfaces that you come into contact with on a day to day basis.

          And I'm on medication that suppresses the immune system...

          1. Yes, I feel the same way. I rarely touch any container left on the table. Truth be told, I have a lot of "germ" issues.

            At my first waitressing job, the woman half of the partnership was nuts about keeping the shakers clean. We had to wipe them down with bleach water and a clean bar rag before every shift. I always think of her when eyeing up the salt shakers.

            Those grinders are showing up at many places in my area.

            1. Not a problem for me whatsoever. While I believe that germ theory is one of the greatest advances in lengthening the human life span, I also believe the germ phobia is a godsend to antiseptic product companies, which cultivate neurotic behavior in consumers. Kinda like the way prescription medication abuse is a far more serious problem in our culture than the abuse of illegal drugs.

              3 Replies
              1. re: Karl S

                Agreed. I don't want to live in a sterile environment. It's not healthy!

                Your immune system needs something to attack or it will attack you. Autoimmune disorders are on the rise

                1. re: scubadoo97

                  That assertion about autoimmune disorders is incorrect. It doesn't work that way. Since this is not a medical site, however, I will not go into it here.

                  1. re: scubadoo97

                    'Your immune system needs something to attack or it will attack you."

                    Could you please elaborate? I'm not understanding what you're saying.

                2. "Do others feel the same way, or is this over the top?"

                  Over the top gets my vote.

                  5 Replies
                      1. re: carolinadawg

                        My opinion, so far over the top. It must really limit how you function in the world.

                    1. Hm, this one never occurred to me. I see your point, but I just don't care enough. I suppose you could wash your hands after seasoning your food?

                      1. couldn't care less.

                        1. I have to vote for "Over The Top".

                          I wish there was a way to say this respectfully, but if there is, I cant think of how: Doesnt this take germ aversion in public places way too far?

                          I dont know what is common where you live, but I can only imagine that salt and pepper grinders [as opposed to shakers] would be present on the tables only in quite high-end restaurants. Frankly, I cant remember seeing grinders on the tables even in the very highest-end places I have been to.

                          And given their presence only in these fancier places, is it not likely that they have indeed been wiped clean at least before the next day's service, if not after every seating at a table?

                          And even if they werent, does this aversion not assume that the hand-washing techniques of the people who sat at your table previous to you were somehow not up to your own standards?

                          I suppose you could carry travel-sized kleenex with you to use while handling these grinders, but if I saw this taking place, I'd wonder if I was sitting in a restaurant with some previously unknown offspring of Howard Hughes.

                          I think I'm as risk-averse as the next person [assuming the next person is not Howard Hughes], but this is a risk I think I am pretty willing to take.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: Fydeaux

                            Actually, you generally don't see them in fine dining restaurants, the reasoning being that the food is properly seasoned before leaving the kitchen. You might see them at a steakhouse, but that would be about it for high-end.

                            1. re: LeoLioness

                              When I do see them it is a steak house. Also happened to be the place I use them. I tend to season at diners and continental type restaurants only. Never understand the s and p at the Indian/east Asian restaurants.

                              1. re: melpy

                                Where I live, I am seeing them in mid-range bar and grill type of places, definately not fine dining. They aren't "real" grinders but throw-away glass with a plastic grinder top type packed for the restaurant industry.

                          2. I kind of get what you're saying. I haven't seen grinders (only shakers) at any restaurants in my area yet, but it does gross me out when the shakers or often times, soy sauce bottles, are sticky/grimy in such a way that they seem to have never been washed. If they feel clean, I don't think twice about it. We're exposed to tons of germs every day- I only think about it when a surface doesn't feel clean.

                            1. Over the top, but easily resolved.

                              1. Don't add salt, as it is the cook's job to put the proper amount of salt in the food.

                              2. Carry small packets of pepper with you for use in a place which doesn't grind the pepper for you.

                              1. It doesn't bother me, but I have to admit that I think about it sometimes. Mostly if I am eating at a place with greasy or messy food where eating with the hands is expected. Barbecue, fried chicken, that kind of thing. I can see the fingerprints on the salt shaker, or the sauce smears on the bottle of BBQ sauce on the table. I haven't singled out grinders specifically though.

                                If I were a germ-phobic person I can see how it would be upsetting. As it is, I don't worry about it at all.

                                1. I feel your pain, jannie. I'd never eat a meal out unless I give my hands a quick squirt with sanitizer just before eating. Let's face it, resto emplyoees aren't going to be as careful at cleaning as I am in my own home. I don't consider myself a germ-phobe, but then again, I hit the street crosswalk button with my elbow

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: BiscuitBoy

                                    Bad news...your computer keyboard has more germs than a toilet seat...


                                    1. re: carolinadawg

                                      Depends WHOSE toilet seat...I'm pretty vigilant about keeping my keyboard and mouse clean, the remote too On the other end of the spectrum, a fellow employee, while traveling for business, told me she would always take a bath in the hotel tub. If that's not a petri dish of major skeeviness, I don't know what is..

                                  2. OVER THE TOP!

                                    Considering how busy servers/cooks are (and how infrequently they wash their hands), this should be the least of your worries!

                                    1. You could always use utensils to eat your food after touching the peppermill with your hands. Most restaurants keep a fork or two around.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. I can't remember ever seeing the disposable McCormick-type disposable pepper grinder, or any pepper grinder for that matter, in a restaurant. I have a bigger aversion to buffets where so many people are handling the serving utensils so I suppose you don't go to buffets either.

                                        39 Replies
                                          1. re: Karl S

                                            When ever I go to a restaurant the first thing I do after ordering is to go to the restroom and wash my hands. If there is a knob or lever on the interior of the door I use a paper towel to open it. Then I annoy my family by holding my hands in the air like a surgeon until the food arrives.
                                            ; )

                                            1. re: Karl S

                                              'doorknobs are the worst"

                                              Apparently, from watching a 20/20 special on restaurant washrooms...
                                              The doorknob on the inside of the washroom is the cleanest part of the room.

                                              1. re: latindancer

                                                Well, of course! That's because all of us smart/special/phobic folks are busily opening THAT door with a paper towel. ;P

                                                Honestly--and I'm not directing the rest of this to you specifically, latindancer--if these thoughts are so phobic and irrational, why are there are so many "wave" paper towel dispensers in public restrooms nowadays? Right, because people don't want to touch the lever. So it would seem the rest of this world is possibly just as batty (not really) as I am.

                                                1. re: kattyeyes

                                                  Likely for the same reason why most ladies room toilet seats (in the US, at least) are sprinkled with germophobic ladies' piss, because they can't possibly be asked to >gasp< sit down on the seat.


                                                  1. re: linguafood

                                                    Come now, didn't anyone ever write this on walls in your neck of the woods?
                                                    "If you sprinkle when you tinkle, please be neat and wipe the seat." ;P

                                                    1. re: kattyeyes

                                                      If only that made it so. Interestingly enough, most (German) ladies I know sit down.

                                                      And they're ALIVE!!!! OMG.

                                                      1. re: linguafood

                                                        ALIVE and crawling with toilet seat germs!!! KIDDING. ;) Mostly. ;P

                                                      2. re: kattyeyes

                                                        Or..."We aim to please, will you aim too, please?"

                                                        I learned something new today. I did not realize ladies had the problem usually associated with males. (Not the phobia, the aiming).

                                                        1. re: John E.

                                                          They do not, if they sit their asses down. Just like the guys :-)

                                                          1. re: John E.

                                                            "We aim to please and your aim will help!" is another. And for the sake of summer, "We don't swim in your toilet, please don't pee in our pool!"

                                                        2. re: kattyeyes

                                                          Well, of course! That's because all of us smart/special/phobic folks are busily opening THAT door with a paper towel. ;P

                                                          Of course! But I do prefer the push out doors in my choice of public restrooms, allowing me the "doctor ready for surgery" butt-push exit.

                                                          It wasn't until I was well into adulthood that I learned that not everyone washes their hands on a regular basis, let alone when they are done using the bathroom. Maybe it is irrational but "bathroom" related germs gross me out more than the thought of random cold germs from someone sneezing.

                                                          1. re: cleobeach

                                                            YES, precisely--same here! It really matters not whether it's rational--it works for me (and you and others here). ;)

                                                          2. re: kattyeyes

                                                            Or, it could be that its cheaper for the establishment.

                                                            1. re: carolinadawg

                                                              I'd guess a sensor-based paper towel dispenser costs more, but who am I. I just like them and am glad to see more of them in public restrooms.

                                                              1. re: kattyeyes

                                                                Initially, no doubt, but over time they are much cheaper than paper towels.

                                                                1. re: carolinadawg

                                                                  Oh, we're talking about two different things--not those air dryers, but paper towel dispensers with a sensor. You wave your hand past the sensor and out come the towels. I've gotta think those cost more than manual dispensers...but again, I like and appreciate them. I hate those dryer things. They're loud as all get out, never seem to dry your hands completely, then how are you supposed to open the door to get out? ;P

                                                                  1. re: kattyeyes

                                                                    If you ever see one of these hand dryers, you gotta try it. If it were not so expensive I would like to have one at our home.


                                                                    1. re: John E.

                                                                      HA HA--no, really? Tell ya what--I'll keep an eye out, and if I do see one, I will report back. :)

                                                                      1. re: John E.

                                                                        Oh those are fun! And these: http://handdryer.com/highspeed.htm are great too. I totally spent like 10 minutes playing with the first one I saw.

                                                                        1. re: Quine

                                                                          I've used those high power hand dryers as well. My father has a place in Arizona in a retirement community. There is a shower and laundry facility across the street from his place. They owners had to remove the paper towel dispenser and put in a couple of the dryers in your link. Apparently some old guy was getting his jollies by stuffing paper towels down the toilets so they would plug up and overflow. Apparently if you're an a**hole when you're 14 you could remain one until you're 70.

                                                                          1. re: John E.

                                                                            When I was young, I used to think that becoming an arsehole was something that afflicted folk in later life. Now, as I've got older, I realise that this isn't the case and they must have always been arseholes

                                                                            1. re: Harters

                                                                              I've reached the same conclusion, Harters, but it's the only world we've got, after all

                                                                            2. re: John E.

                                                                              I've worked with seniors for the last 35 years. It is so true. Whatever you were when young, you will be when you are elderly - just multiplied by 10... or more.

                                                                        2. re: kattyeyes

                                                                          I'm thinking it's more because then you don't have some idiot banging on the release lever to advance the paper towels. If they can't touch it, they're less likely to break it.

                                                                          Kattyeyes, there's a dryer out there made by Dyson that **rocks** completely dry hands in about 30 seconds...they're loud, but they're great.

                                                                          1. re: sunshine842

                                                                            What, sunshine? I couldn't hear you over the dryer noise. Teasing. I also think it's funny Quine got lost in the ladies' room playing with the dryer. ("Where DID she go? Did she fall in?!) ;)

                                                                            1. re: kattyeyes

                                                                              Yeah well, my Mom did mention that...but she knows me. And still claims me as her child. Amazing.

                                                                            2. re: sunshine842

                                                                              they're loud but they're great.

                                                                              I watched my hands dry in one of those beasts recently and there was a literal G-force happening with the skin on my hand.

                                                                            3. re: kattyeyes

                                                                              'how are you supposed to open the door to get out?"

                                                                              Pull your arm sleeve down and use it or use the bottom of your top. I've seen it done dozens of times :).

                                                                              1. re: latindancer

                                                                                You could wait for someone to come in ; )

                                                                                1. re: John E.

                                                                                  Or wear good gripping sneakers and use your foot.

                                                                                  1. re: latindancer

                                                                                    oh, hell -- just slip your shoes off and open it with your feet.....

                                                                                    ....I'm trying hard not to wave the "over the top flag", but the phrase "phobia" seems to have been well-chosen, whether inadvertently or not.

                                                                                    1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                      Same here.

                                                                                      I'm not trying to make light of anyone's worries....I certainly have my own share but some of the visuals in the restrooms are pretty hilarious. Gotta admit.

                                                                          2. re: kattyeyes

                                                                            Plus people tend to waste less paper towels with them. Save cost in the long run.

                                                                        3. re: kattyeyes


                                                                          I don't know....I'm hoping that's what good immune systems are for.

                                                                          1. re: kattyeyes

                                                                            I think the reason for the new touchless towel dispensers (and faucets) have more to do with making it easier for people with physical disabilities than them not wanting to touch the lever.

                                                                            1. re: alwayshungrygal

                                                                              Not at all; it has to do with the labor to replace towels and to empty the trash and pick up the ones folks leave lying all over the place. What I love is the trend toward seat covers and touchless flushing and faucet turn ons. Much more sanitary.

                                                                              1. re: mcf

                                                                                How does a touchless paper towel dispenser (as referenced by alwayshungrygal) lessen the cost of replacing paper towels, emptying the trash and picking up paper towels off the floor? Seems to me that there would still be paper towels to replace and pick up.

                                                                    2. If it important to you then you have several choices; don't use them at all, carry a disintectant, or carry your own (portible size). As for myself, I think we are becomming obsessed with "germ worry". I have way too many things to balance during the day than to worry about a pepper mill.

                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                      1. re: wjc50

                                                                        Couldn't agree more. Christ on a bicycle, this whole thread is depressing for the most part.

                                                                      2. It's certainly "over the top." In fact, it might be considered something that would be better for a discussion on a site dedicated to mysophobia (sometimes misophobia) or OCD.

                                                                        More worthy of discussion here is how disgustingly wasteful it is to use the "disposable" salt and pepper grinders by restaurants, or, ever, people in their homes.

                                                                        2 Replies
                                                                          1. re: carolinadawg

                                                                            I would submit that discussing a medical condition is probably less "in bounds" than a wasteful restaurant practice. Nevertheless, both are probably outside of what is permitted by the guidelines.

                                                                        1. Sorry, agree with those who say it's over the top.

                                                                          1. Let's go back to the OP. Janniecooks describes this as a "phobia". I'd certainly agree with that on the usual definition of the word - an irrational fear of something. No point trying to make rational comments on something that's feared irrationally.

                                                                            On reflection, my earlier comment agreeing that this was "over the top" is harsh. I should have been more sympathetic towards someone's phobia. They cannot help how they are.

                                                                            1 Reply
                                                                            1. re: Harters

                                                                              As far as phobias go, if I had to have one, this one might be fairly easy to overcome. It would be rather easy to bring salt and pepper to any restaurant while remaining inconspicuous.

                                                                            2. ...or is this over the top?"

                                                                              I don't know.
                                                                              I'm a purist when it comes to dining out. I don't like anything on the table other than perhaps 1-2 stems and a candle. If that.
                                                                              I don't recall ever having to season my food after the cook/chef has prepared it for me so seeing a bunch of junk on the table isn't appealing.

                                                                              13 Replies
                                                                              1. re: latindancer

                                                                                I guess you're not eating at Denny's, Perkins, Applebee's, or even local cafes, diners, or dives.

                                                                                1. re: John E.

                                                                                  'I goes you're not eating at Denny's, Perkins, Applebee's, or even local cafes, diners, or dives."

                                                                                  Denny's once in a blue moon if there's nothing else in a small town on a road trip...Applebee's never, local cafes, diners, or dives....of course I do.

                                                                                  I've been lucky I guess with the seasonings...I haven't needed to pick up a salt shaker in years and the pepper I would want wouldn't come out of a shaker.
                                                                                  I remove all that crap off the table to make room.

                                                                                  1. re: latindancer

                                                                                    Where do you put those things? On the floor? On the seat of one of the chairs? Surely not.

                                                                                2. re: latindancer

                                                                                  Speaking of over the top..............

                                                                                  1. re: joe777cool

                                                                                    Well, I suppose that's one way of looking at it.
                                                                                    Those little jam/jelly packets are completely useless in my opinion. All i need is a cube of sugar for my coffee and an occasional tabasco for my eggs and some jam for my toast. .I prefer not to look at the rest of the junk they put on the table.

                                                                                    1. re: latindancer

                                                                                      Blasphemy! Those little jam/jelly packets are perfect for snacking when no one is looking, just stick your tongue right in the cup...

                                                                                      1. re: kattyeyes

                                                                                        Come on Katty, that kind of behavior is frowned upon. This is what the mother of pearl caviar spoon is for!

                                                                                        1. re: joe777cool

                                                                                          I know, you can't take me anywhere! ;)

                                                                                          1. re: joe777cool

                                                                                            So let's get this straight....

                                                                                            You use your mother of pearl caviar spoon at the restaurant to eat that gross jelly/jam in the packets?
                                                                                            Now that's over the top.

                                                                                          2. re: kattyeyes

                                                                                            It makes sense...

                                                                                            They're about the size/dimensions of a tongue.

                                                                                            1. re: kattyeyes

                                                                                              "when no one is looking"

                                                                                              Don't be so sure they're not...
                                                                                              A few years ago I sat in a booth next to this largely overweight man and woman who, upon sitting down, began tearing the tops off those little creamers and drinking them about as fast as they could go down. There must have been at least 50 of them in a big bowl because, obviously, this diner didn't like refilling them and it was their main source of cream for coffee..
                                                                                              A waiter came over and told them to stop it and the two of them told him 'no'....it was their privilege (they were free) and they'd drink as many as they wanted.
                                                                                              I asked to be moved from the two of them....it was nauseating.

                                                                                            2. re: latindancer

                                                                                              How do you know someone hasn't been drinking from the tabasco bottle?

                                                                                              1. re: bbqboy

                                                                                                You know, I used to be a camp director, and I did actually have a camper pick up a ketchup bottle and suckle it at the table.

                                                                                                That bottle went directly to the kitchen. Ketchup down the sink, and the bottle through the dishwasher.

                                                                                        2. I think this is over the top. However, I must say, as a former waitress, we filled the salt & pepper shakers at the end of our shifts, but we were never told to wipe them down. That having been said, if I had found one to be greasy or dirty I would have traded it in for a clean one from our side stands. Occasionally they were all run through the dishwasher and refilled too.
                                                                                          I am more germ conscious the older I get, and the more weird diseases appear.

                                                                                          1. I don't know how you can eat at a restaurant to begin with. I'd be more worried about kitchen staffs' sanitary condition(ie, did they wash their hands after that bathroom visit?) than a pepper grinder.

                                                                                            1 Reply
                                                                                            1. re: Monica

                                                                                              Ah, yes, indeed.

                                                                                              Or the report on our village discussion board that the chef at one of our local restaurants had been spotted propping open the front door, studiously picking his nose.

                                                                                              And, no, you guessed right - we've not been since then

                                                                                            2. Other than the time that I filled our salt-grinder with less than ideal salt, and it ran out, I have not given too much thought about this. I learned the ideal "size of salt crystals), and never made THAT mistake again.


                                                                                              1. I have thought about this (ditto for other things on the table, such as ketchup in a pub, where you know some toddler has probably licked it), BUT...the presence of bacteria does not mean you'll get sick from it. We eat all kinds of bacteria every single day, and more than a few bugs and specks of dirt, but most people don't ever get sick from their food. So I think the real issue is psychological and everyone has to decide his/her own tolerance.

                                                                                                I don't think you're over the top for letting the grinder thing gross you out. It's just an area where you can't convince yourself that it's okay, and I believe most people have one or two issues like that.

                                                                                                1 Reply
                                                                                                1. re: Isolda

                                                                                                  Of course.

                                                                                                  It's no different than standing on a cliff convincing yourself you'll just free fall if you get too close. Or the people who examine their flatware at a restaurant convinced the spot on the knife is a hotbed for bacteria. Or the parent who is using that antibacterial stuff every 2 minutes if their child touches anything outside the home or....
                                                                                                  The list is endless.

                                                                                                2. After reading all the comments criticizing me (and suggesting I am seriously mentally ill) for owning up to an aversion to touching salt and pepper grinders and S&P shakers (note that I originally wrote aversion, not fear), I googled the topic and discovered that yes indeed S&P shakers harbor germs. Like everything else in a restuarant, any public place, or most places in our homes. I'm no germophobe - I do not hesitate to use lemon wedges in restaurants which are among the dirtiest things around I'm told - so the reaction of some posters to my topic is really disturbing, especially those that make their feeble attempt at a psychiatric diagnosis. Thanks for making this poster feel so warmly welcome at your table.

                                                                                                  For others more inclined to be reasonable, I ran across an enjoyable essay on the topic of germs in public places, written by a food service veteran. I knew she was my kind of gal from the first few sentences of the essay: "I used the bottom of my coat to open the door. We were seated right away and presented menus in a lovely, stiff binder. I didn't take the menu, forcing the hostess to lay it on the table — I prefer wipeable plastic. I opened it with my knuckles and avoided touching the grease-stained pages inside." Ha!

                                                                                                  The title of the essay is "Touching Me, Touching You: For the love of all things edible, wash your hands" by Maggie Savarino Dutton. Here's a link:


                                                                                                  4 Replies
                                                                                                  1. re: janniecooks

                                                                                                    while some of the responses were also over the top -- you can't put the word phobia in the title, ask "is this over the top" and then get upset if someone says "yes, it's over the top."

                                                                                                    Phobias are not considered a serious mental illness, by the way. We've all got our issues.

                                                                                                    1. re: janniecooks

                                                                                                      Phobias are not usually a serious mental illness but they are a mental illness. If you didnt want folk to comment on phobias as a mental illness (or if you havnt actually got a phobia about this), perhaps it would have been better not to put phobia in the thread title.

                                                                                                      If you have got a phobia over this, perhaps be thankful that it is one that is fairly easy to deal with, in practical terms. Not everyone is so fortunate in their phobia affliction.

                                                                                                      1. re: janniecooks

                                                                                                        Couldn't resist after seeing that title:

                                                                                                        1. re: janniecooks

                                                                                                          A woman after my own heart, too. I always use my sleeves, pockets, etc. to open doors, too, when possible.

                                                                                                        2. I think about it, and use a napkin to pick it up, and then I try not to think about it too much. I always have wet wipes in my bag just in case something feels icky and sticky to me. I flush with my foot and don't touch hand rails or door handles, either, if there's any way to avoid them.

                                                                                                          1. Folks, this thread is getting pretty far afield from the original question, and many of the answers that are on point are a little unfriendly, so we're going to lock it now.