Are Viral Ice Cream-Licking Videos Literally Viral?

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Woman grabbing ice cream out of a cooler at the grocery store.

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As an infectious disease specialist and “an avid ice cream lover,” Matthew Bauer, DO, told Premier Health Now that he’s “repulsed” by recent viral social media videos showing people opening ice cream cartons in stores, licking the ice cream, and reclosing and returning the containers to the shelf. 

“Apart from the obvious – finding this completely disgusting – from an infectious disease standpoint, what I worry about when people are contaminating food products is saliva,” says Dr. Bauer, who practices with Middletown Infectious Disease Associates. “Our mouths, to put it bluntly, carry a lot of viruses and bacteria.” 

But, he adds, “with bacteria and viruses living outside the body for an extended period of time, especially in cold environments, the risk is probably low.” 

Dr. Bauer says that when he conducted a quick search of medical literature he found no “definitive reported cases” of foodborne illness resulting from intentionally contaminated food as in the viral videos. “But there’s still a potential for people being exposed to whatever a person could be carrying.” For instance, he says, “You hear about people catching viruses from sharing drinks.”

Considering the rigorous food safety regulations food producers – ice cream makers in particular – must abide by, he said, “I think it’s a shame that people are opening containers and contaminating food products.”

Grocery Shopper, Beware

Dr. Bauer advises grocery shoppers to be observant: “Just look at the packaging and make sure it doesn’t appear to be tampered with and opened in any way.” If you see something suspicious, report it to the grocer.

Ice cream cartons can be a unique challenge. “Some of them don’t have a plastic seal on top,” Dr. Bauer says. “It’s just a cardboard lid. You undo it, and the ice cream’s right there. This may actually change the way they package ice cream to make it harder for people to do this.”

The Consequences Of 15 Minutes Of Fame

Besides the possible health risks, the incidents featured in the videos could pose serious consequences for the alleged perpetrators – like fines and jail time. “Unfortunately, with social media, people are always looking for their 15 minutes of fame,” Dr. Bauer says. “They don’t think about the consequences it could have on themselves and somebody else.

“Although I would hope the risk of transmittable diseases is fairly low, nonetheless I think there is potential risk.”

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Headshot of Matthew D. Bauer, DO

Matthew D. Bauer, DO

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