Fascination With Toilets—Risky or Not?

— Written By and last updated by Meghan Lassiter
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If you read this column frequently, you know I often write about one of my favorite food safety podcasts. It’s called Risky or Not and is produced by two Extension Food Safety Specialists, our own Dr. Ben Chapman from NC State Extension and Dr. Don Schaffner, a specialist from Rutgers in New Jersey.

This podcast is available for anyone who wants to listen and learn. Risky or Not is short with each episode about 10 minutes. In each podcast, Drs. Chapman and Schaffner address one food safety topic, usually a question that has been asked by a listener or an Extension colleague. Most of the time, the question is related to food, cooking, or food preservation. They look at research and science and give their rationale for deciding if it is risky or not.

They are currently up to over 400 episodes, so probably something of interest for many of you. But if you go to archives and look for topics, you’ll find there seems to be a fascination from listeners about toilets. Lots of the episodes have toilets as part of the questions. Here’s a summary of some of the more interesting (and funny) discussions.

Episode #71- Toilet Milky Way. The two professors talk about a fun-sized wrapped Milky Way that was dropped into an unflushed toilet. The question was: can the candy bar still be eaten? The Professors talked about the integrity of the candy bar wrapper (this was a key point). They both finally decided it was NOT RISKY. They did suggest carefully washing the candy bar in the wrapper, drying it, and making sure the package had not leaked. They also suggested washing hands before eating the candy bar. Dr. Don said he thought this was a “little gross” and he would flush the whole mess. Professor Chapman said he’d eat the candy bar himself.

Episode #300- Washing Your Toilet Seat in Your Dishwasher. This episode was about a “dishwasher-safe” toilet seat. There was a TikTok post about someone disassembling their toilet and washing the seat in the home dishwasher. The question was if you did this, would it be risky or not for the other items that were washed in the dishwasher at the same time? But the ultimate question is “why would someone really want to do this?” Their conclusion is that assuming that soap was used and the dishwasher was working properly it was NOT RISKY.

Episode #337- Using Toilet Paper Rolls for Tube Crafts for Kids. The listener
wanted to use used/empty toilet paper rolls with kids for craft projects. Both Professors said NOT RISKY. There is a possibility of risks if things get “messy” in the bathroom, especially if someone has diarrhea. They recommended discarding any tubes with obvious fecal material on them. They did not find any literature showing research on pathogens on toilet paper rolls.

Episode #364- Leeching Acorns in a Toilet Tank to Make Acorn Flour. This question involved putting acorns in the tank of a toilet. Obviously, the question is WHY would someone want to do this? People are making acorn flour as a gluten-free flour alternative. Acorns contain tannins that may be dangerous to consume. Soaking the acorns helps to remove some of these tannins to reduce the toxicity issues. Essentially the toilet tank is being used as a constant emptying and refilling water storage container. The water is clean coming into it. They had more concerns about the toxicity of acorn flour than the use of the toilet. They concluded that it is NOT RISKY…but this is not a best practice. The process of leeching could be done by some other method and not in a toilet tank.

If these topics are of specific interest to you, I suggest you listen to these
programs yourself. The details in the discussions are very important.

To listen to this podcast, go to Riskyornot.co (yes that is co not com). All past
programs are available. If you have a specific question, you can also send it
to the specialists.

Cheryle Syracuse wrote this article and more similar ones for the Family and Consumer Sciences Column in the Brunswick Beacon. Syracuse is an FCS team member and can be reached at N.C. Cooperative Extension, Brunswick County Center, 910.253.2610 or by email at cheryle_syracuse@ncsu.edu.