Here in Montana, we are hundreds of miles away from the nearest beach. But that doesn’t stop us from sliding our feet into one of America’s favorite beachwear items: flip-flops.

And why wouldn’t we? They are the epitome of cool, carefree summer fashion. Plus, with some pairs as cheap as $5 — or even less — you can afford to have a pair in every color.

Recently, I dug my extensive flip-flop collection out of storage. As I pulled them out, I noticed that some of the older pairs were starting to develop dark-colored surface stains in the shape of feet. Ultimately, I decided that some of them just weren’t going to make it another summer, and I tossed them in the garbage.

Turns out, that decision might end up saving me a lot of trouble later on. According to a study performed a few years ago, flip-flops can harbor thousands of harmful germs. In one study, a single pair contained more than 18,000 bacteria. Among those was Staphylococcus aureus, a germ that could enter the body through a cut or blister and eventually cause a deadly infection.

Another pair contained the germs that cause yeast infections and diaper rash. In fact, one doctor estimated that if a person wore a single pair for a full summer, at the end of three months there would be a 93 percent chance that the shoes contained fecal matter and a 20 percent chance that they contained E. coli.

When you think about all of the places you flip and flop around during the summer, it really isn’t much of a surprise. Those flip-flops go with you as you stroll down city sidewalks, through dingy bars and into public restrooms.

If, like me, you’re unwilling to kick your flip-flop habit completely, just be sure to take a few safety precautions. Avoid touching your shoes and feet with your hands, don’t go sock free if you have an open lesion on your foot and remove your sandals before entering your home.

Brooke is a 2010 graduate of The University of Montana, where she ran track and cross country for the Grizzlies. She is currently working as a writer and editor in Missoula.