"Food, Inc." exposed the many health dangers of the fast-food drive-thru, but a recent study has identified a new health risk: Eating in your car can mean eating disease-causing germs (via Daily Mail, Treehugger).

Why? People aren’t vigilant about keeping their cars as clean as their homes. If you’ve spilled a sugary soft drink and just left the wet carpet to dry “naturally” — or you've left dabs of ketchup on your seat to create a tie-dye effect with all the other food stains, your car could be home to bacteria bacillus cereus and staphylococcus that can cause skin infections and food poisoning.

Get those bugs mixed into your latest drive-thru meal, and your lunch on the go could cause you some health problems later. That said, this study — conducted by scientists in research for Halfords, a car accessories retailer that promotes its vehicle cleaning products in its press release about the study — sounds more alarming than the actual findings merit. After all, it’s not as if the report was prompted by doctors who saw a large number of drive-thru fans turning up in emergency rooms with staph infections. The scientists simply found potentially dangerous bugs when they swabbed areas of a dirty car — then extrapolated that people could get sick from these bugs.

Still, the report should make you think twice about setting a burger down on the dashboard or eating that dropped fry off the floor. Better yet, maybe you’ll start avoiding the drive-thru altogether, opting for healthier lunches — hopefully enjoyed while not negotiating major intersections behind the wheel. After all, if you must eat on the go, it’s a lot less stressful to eat al fresco, walking or biking where you need to go (though do be careful, if biking), leaving the dirty car behind altogether.

I will admit that though I’m not a fan of the drive-thru, I sometimes eat in the car on the rare occasion I drive to Trader Joe’s. Those Lara bars and organic, fair trade chocolates are hard to put off until I get home! Luckily I usually shop at the co-op or my local Whole Foods, which are within walking distance. On those trips I just nibble as I walk home, footloose and carefree from worries of staph infections.

Health risks in eating and driving
Like to set your burger on your dashboard between bites? When's the last time you cleaned your car?