Germaphobes and free spirits alike will delight in Did You Just Eat That?, an entertaining journey into the microbial underworld. Food scientists Paul Dawson and Brian Sheldon, with the help of students from Clemson University, subject popular wisdom to rigorous scientific testing--and present the results in an accessible, introductory format. (The cute illustrations of anthropomorphic bacteria are a bonus.)
Though the title purports to investigate "food myths," that's not quite accurate. Instead, through a series of experiments, Dawson and Sheldon enlighten readers as to just how cozily we live with bacteria, viruses and their friends--and how easily they can make us sick. Following a breezy but fascinating overview of these diverse microorganisms, the book is divided into three sections: "Surfaces," "Air and Water" and "Transport Mechanisms." If that sounds dull, read on: the experiments in each section have names like "Blowing out Birthday Candles, or Spraying Germs on a Cake?"; "Things You Put in Your Drink"; and "Beer Pong: Don't Hate the Game."
In each experiment, Dawson and Sheldon explore the origins of their inquiry (Who came up with the five-second rule? How many germs live on the average person's hand? Is it true that washing our hands can create more opportunities for bacteria to flourish?), discuss any prior research on the topic and guide readers through their own methods and results. In many instances, the findings are startling--for example, readers may never look at (or touch) their restaurant menus the same way again. --Hannah Calkins, writer and editor in Washington, D.C.