Don't Eat Food Off Of An Airplane Tray Table Unless It's Disinfected. Here's Why

If you think about it, planes are just glorified trains and buses. Sure, there's a certain allure to being thousands of feet up in the sky; but at their core, planes are essentially a form of public transportation. And as we've come to know about our experience with public transit, they are dirty. Really dirty.

Planes are exceptionally grimy, as passengers stay in their seats for hours at a time. Some areas are filthier than others, but what's particularly concerning is that the tray tables — where you eat your food — are one of the dirtiest. An investigation conducted by CBC Canada found that they tend to harbor bacteria that can cause skin and soft-tissue infections, while a study by TravelMath discovered that tray tables, on average, housed 2,155 colony-forming units (bacteria) per square inch. These findings aren't surprising, as flight attendants revealed that people do all sorts of things with their trays, including placing their feet and changing their babies' diapers.

While many airlines claim they follow stringent standards for cleaning and disinfecting, it's mostly done at night. "Planes are not getting any kind of deep clean in the day unless there is a specific action to pull the plane out of service — and we frankly rarely see that," Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA International, told The Washington Post. With this in mind, if you are to use a plane's tray, then you need to take matters into your own hands — and wipes.

How to disinfect your airplane tray table

Armed with the knowledge that airplane tray tables are thriving breeding grounds for bacteria, you should avoid direct contact with them without prior cleaning. "Theoretically, if you touch a contaminated surface, and then touch your own mouth or nose, you could ingest and become infected with germs from these surfaces," Dr. Stacey Rubin Rose, associate professor of internal medicine and infectious diseases at Baylor College of Medicine, told Verywell Health.

The good news is cleaning them is as easy as wiping them down with your choice of disinfectant. Make sure to wait a few minutes for the formula to dry before you wipe it off, or just follow the instructions provided on the packaging to guarantee maximum effect. And why stop with the tray? While you're at it, you can sanitize the rest of your seat, including the armrest, seatbelt buckle, and seat pocket. Spoiler alert: Seat pockets are reportedly the dirtiest spot in an airplane seat.

You can even go the extra mile and wrap the table with napkins or paper towels before placing meals — or anything edible — on it. If you can squeeze it in your budget, you can also opt to purchase disposable tray table covers, some of which are made out of medical-grade materials, to add an extra layer of assurance and ensure a clean surface for fuss-free eating and drinking.