Ask Athena: Dirty Dining

When your new flame’s kitchen hygiene gives you heartburn. 


Q: My new boyfriend (6+ months) invited me to his family home where they were throwing him a birthday dinner. We got there early so I could lend a hand in the kitchen, but what I saw there was disgusting. Cats on the counters! Sticky stovetops. They’d feed the dog scraps as they cooked and not wash their hands! Later, when I refused to eat, they called me ridiculous, and insisted that germs “cook off” anyway. Sorry but yuck! Apparently I ruined the evening? Does courtesy trump sanitation in polite society?

A: There is no rule that you must eat at someone else’s home. There is a general rule that you should be polite and courteous. I think you broke that rule.

We all have different standards. Lots of people feed their dogs scraps in the kitchen. Cats go where they please. We all should wash our hands when preparing food. Germs don’t all “cook off” when food is prepared. It takes a particular high temperature over a sustained period to cook off most germs, and even then some foodborne pathogens produce toxins that will survive any temperature (staphylococcus, for example).

From what you describe, I doubt anyone was observing that protocol. But, they were all eating it as they probably have done for years. If they don’t usually clean the counters, yuck again. Maybe, though, the counters just got messy from cooking such a big family feast? Either way, that’s life, and people find their own ways to adapt.

The thing to look at is how your presence changed the meal. What were you supposed to do? I would have advised waving off dinner, saying you just weren’t that hungry. You could’ve also looked for items that were served directly from their purchase containers (preferably without needing plates or utensils), such as bags of chips or baby carrots. You weren’t supposed to tell them that their food preparation disgusted you and violated health department rules. 🤦‍♀️

If you are ever invited back, just apologize for making the fuss and leave it at that. If the relationship lasts, you might be forever known as the stickler for cleanliness. Take advantage of it and quietly clean counters next time you are in the kitchen. “It’s just my thing,” you can tell them.

Politeness says you aren’t supposed to make people uncomfortable in their own homes. So throw yourself under the bus, and own this as your particular “compulsion” that you have every right to entertain for your own comfort and caution. They shouldn’t force you to eat food against your better judgement, and you shouldn’t be so polite to do something you don’t want to do.

Instead, laugh it off as a personal quirk and then hit up McDonald’s on your way home.


🛑🐾‼️ Stop that pet! You don’t know where those furry feet have been! 🤢

If you’re like most pet owners, you’d rather not think about all the yucky stuff our cats and dogs might be tracking through the house. Whenever they go outside (or dig in their litter box), they can pick up pathogens from soil, trash, fecal matter – whatever they step in. Then they come around us, spreading dangerous germs such as MRSA and leptospira, as well as tapeworms and other internal parasites, all of which can cause serious illness in humans, especially in seniors, young children, and the immunocompromised.

Sharing plates? Think again. Our pets mouths are teaming with bacteria that can make us sick, such as salmonella and e coli which – TRUE STORY – can survive a good soapy scrub in the sink, and even regular dishwasher cycles can fail to remove all traces. Tens of thousands of Americans are hospitalized every year (and many hundreds die) from infections that could be prevented by following basic food safety guidelines.

The old myth that dogs’ mouths are cleaner than ours simply isn’t true, and despite new research suggesting cat butts aren’t nearly as obtrusive as they appear, best practices strongly recommend keeping our kitchens strictly off-limits to pets.

AGREE? DISAGREE? Please leave your remarks below in the Comments.

Send your questions to

Read last month’s Ask Athena here.

About Athena 44 Articles
When she’s not advising mortals, Athena spends her time on earth in NW Philly with her husband, two sons and a day job where she’s paid to tell important people what to do (naturally). Send your questions to

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.