Germ Warfare Begins at Home

We all tell our children to wash their hands before they eat, and after using the restroom. 95percent of adults surveyed, by The American Society of Microbiology, said they did too. But one-third of those watched in public restrooms really didn't, according to the recently released study. The more people do their part to control the spread of infection, the less we have to use antibiotics. This is very important because antibiotics will lose their effectiveness over time, as bacteria develop resistance to them.

So, where are these dangerous germs lurking?

Researchers at The University of Arizona in Tucson, swabbed hundreds of surfaces, which can harbor disease causing germs, to determine the most unhygienic areas of commonly found in the home and in public areas.

In Your Home

Experts say the most likely place to find disgusting bacteria is right in your kitchen. To prevent food poisoning and respiratory illnesses, it's important to know where these bacteria live. The greatest number of fecal bacteria actually are found in the kitchen sink and the least number in your bathroom. Actually, there are 200 times more fecal bacteria on your cutting board than on a toilet seat. Based on this testing of homes, here are the top five hot spots:

  • The kitchen sponge of dish rag is a germ's favorite place to live with 6,000 bacteria per square centimeter.

  • The kitchen sink comes in second.

  • The bathroom sink is third.

  • Kitchen tap handles are fourth.

  • And the refrigerator door is fifth.

Note: The top of the toilet seat comes in dead last with less than one bacterium per square centimeter.

Germ Warfare In the Kitchen: Make sure you target the hot spots with cleaners that use the word "disinfect." Here are some specifics:

  • Cutting boards. Keep several cutting boards on hand, including one reserved for cooked foods, another for raw meats, and a third for everything else. Scrub them with diluted bleach or a liquid detergent that's labeled "microbial" after each use. Plastic cutting boards can be disinfected in the dishwasher.

  • Dishes. Make sure the water in the dishwasher is at least 150 degrees. (Household water heaters should be set no higher than 120 degrees to protect against scalding, but many dishwasher have an internal heater, check with the manufacturer.) If you're washing by hand, use an antimicrobial liquid detergent and water that's as hot so you can stand. Let dishes air-dry rather than wiping them with a dish towel that might not be fresh out of the laundry.

  • Eating surfaces. Wipe off table tops and highchair trays after each meal, and wash them every few days with a mixture of 1 ounce of chlorine bleach for every 3 gallons of water. Leave it on for one minute, then rinse thoroughly.

  • Hands. Begin every cooking session with a rigorous 20 second hand washing. Use the hottest tap water your hands can stand and a liquid antimicrobial soap. Be sure to thoroughly clean the crevices between fingers and under the nails. You should also get into the habit of re-washing every time you come into contact with bacteria. That means washing again after handling raw meats, petting the dog, changing a diaper, and utensils used to prepare meat, and vegetables. Clean utensils thoroughly with an antimicrobial detergent and hot water, and dry completely after each time.

  • Oven and stovetop. Follow the manufacturer's instructions for cleaning. Periodically check ovens with 2 thermometer to be sure that foods are cooked completely to prevent spoiling, never leave prepared foods at room temperature for more than two hours-- even less during hot weather.

  • Sink and drain. Wipe thoroughly, disposing of "scraps" after each use. Scrub with a cleanser once a day. Run the sink strainer baskets through the dishwasher when they look dirty, or scrub with hot water and an antimicrobial detergent.

  • Sponges. Rinse well and dry after each use. Use separate sponges for dishes, countertops, and floors. Clean dirty sponges in the washing machine, set on hot. Discard them when they smell sour, or start to fall apart.

  • Refrigerator. Keep shelves clean of spills and dirt. Regularly scrub the vegetable bins and meat coolers, and line them with clean paper towels to absorb moisture. To keep foods safe, keep the temperature between 35 and 38 degrees.

  • Microwave oven. Regularly wipe out the interior, including the sides and top. Run the glass tray through the dishwasher as needed, or scrub with hot water and an antimicrobial detergent.

  • Small appliances. Put detachable parts of blenders and electric can openers and mixers through the dishwasher or wash by hand in hot water using an antimicrobial detergent. Wipe bases after each use.

  • Water dispensers. Whether they're a fixture on a refrigerator or a stand alone water cooler, follow the manufacturer's instructions. Clean detachable parts in the dishwasher or in hot, soapy water.

What are the dirtiest public places? Here they are in order of dirtiness. Playgrounds have most contaminated surfaces. Here are the other top eight:

  1. Public telephones

  2. Public rest-room surfaces

  3. Counter pens

  4. Chair armrests

  5. Elevator buttons

  6. Escalator handrails

  7. Shopping cart handrails

  8. Grocery store refrigerator handles

We can't avoid all these places, and the germs they harbor. So what's the best way to keep from getting sick? It's just like mother always said... wash your hands. But most people don't do it correctly. You have to lather and scrub for 20 full seconds in order to get the germs off!