Here’s What a Scientist Thinks About Roasting Marshmallows on Sticks Found in the Woods

updated May 1, 2019
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(Image credit: Hannah Lee)

The best part of any camping trip (or even a backyard fire-pit gathering) is obviously the time you spend with your friends and family. The second-best thing? The s’mores, hands down.

If you’re one to really rough it, chances are you’ve roasted your fair share of marshmallows on random sticks you’ve collected in the woods. While any specks of dirt and bark just add to the rustic experience, it’s hard not to wonder if what you’re doing is actually okay. How gross are those sticks you’re eating sugar off of? We talked to an expert to find out.

Turns out, it’s totally fine, according to Jason “The Germ Guy” Tetro, a scientist who focuses on microbiology and immunology and author of The Germ Files. Here are three things to keep in mind.

1. The great outdoors aren’t so bad.

If you’re the type to bleach your kitchen every day or bathe in Purell (or maybe you just prefer things to be more clean than not), there’s good news: Tetro says the microbes that typically cause illness or are dangerous to humans aren’t found in the woods. “The majority of species found in nature are harmless and unthreatening for the most part,” he says.

2. The fire will help.

While, yes, there are germs and microbes in the woods, anything that might be a little too yucky to eat is taken care of by the fire. “If the temperature goes above 160°F, then you have nothing to worry about,” Tetro says. (For reference, the heat from burning paper is around 480°F, so your campfire is most certainly hotter than 160!) His advice, just to be safe: “Give the stick a good pre-burn before attaching anything to it.”

3. Whittling is also a good idea.

You didn’t earn those Girl Scout badges for nothing — whip out your Swiss Army knife and whittle the end of your stick into a point, uncovering the wood beneath the bark and removing the parts that were exposed to elements. Once you do that, you’ll have a fresh, germ-free spot for your marshmallows to roast away.