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Nasty Germs Are Lurking in Your “Clean” Home

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The 7 hot spots everyone misses…

A clean house feels great! But germs are wily and can thrive even in sparkling “clean” homes—particularly in areas that people don’t realize are microbial hot spots. Research shows that about 12% of foodborne diseases in the US actually start in the home.

Shocking statistics: Coliform bacteria (a family of organisms that includes Salmonella and E. coli) were present in 81% of tested households…nearly one-third of the homes tested positive for yeast and molds…and more than 5% harbored Staph, a bacterium that can cause serious—sometimes antibiotic-resistant—diseases and infections, such as abscesses, pneumonia and food poisoning, according to the NSF International Household Germ Study. These germs can make anyone sick—especially people who are immunocompromised, young children and the elderly.

WHERE GERMS HIDE OUT

Most people know that doorknobs are often teeming with germs, and the kitchen sink, even a shiny one, can harbor more bacteria than the average toilet seat. Smart ideas: Use disinfectant wipes to clean high-touch areas, such as doorknobs and kitchen door handles. The kitchen sink should be washed and disinfected on the sides and bottom once or twice each week with a disinfecting cleanser. Even worse: The kitchen sponge. It can harbor more than 321 million germs, so put wet sponges in the microwave for two minutes once a day, and replace them often—every two weeks or so.

But in every home, there are other areas that people simply don’t think to disinfect. Where you’re vulnerable…*

Toothbrush holders. You probably know to store toothbrushes upright to air-dry between uses—it helps prevent the growth of microorganisms that could cause oral or systemic infection. This is good advice, but it doesn’t address the holders themselves.

What most people ignore is the significant amount of “drippage” from multihole toothbrush holders. This provides a perfect germ environment. We found that 64% were contaminated with yeast or molds…27% had coliform bacteria…and 14% tested positive for Staph.

What to do: Clean the holders at least once a week with warm, soapy water. (If you can’t reach inside, fill the holder with soapy water and give a vigorous shake…rinse…and repeat until the water runs clean.) If the holder is dishwasher-safe, run it through a hot cycle. Also: There are no regulations that brand-new toothbrushes must be sterile, so give yours an overnight soak in antimicrobial mouth rinse before the first use.

Can openers. How often do you clean yours? Once a week? Never? Can openers are actually among the most germ-laden objects in the entire house. E. coli and/or Salmonella were found on can openers in 36% of the households we studied.

What to do: Wash the can opener every time you use it. If it’s dishwasher safe, place it in the dishwasher after every use. If you are hand-washing it, wash the can opener in hot, soapy water and rinse thoroughly before air-drying. Be sure all food residue is removed from the area around cutting blades. Use an old toothbrush to scrub hard-to-reach crannies.

Refrigerator door seals. Research we conducted has found that refrigerator door seals (along with refrigerator vegetable compartments) often are contaminated with Listeria, a bacterium that can cause serious illness such as sepsis or meningitis.

What to do: Run a damp, soapy cloth across the surface of the door seal and through the inner channel once a week. Pay particular attention to areas where crumbs or drippings are most likely to accumulate.

Blenders. They’re among the “dirtiest” items in the kitchen. Many people, inspired by the smoothie craze, use their blenders daily. To save time, they just give the blender a quick rinse. Not good enough.

The rubber gasket at the base of the pitcher is often contaminated with mold, yeast, E. coli and/or Salmonella. Washing the pitcher will clean only the outer edge of the gasket and won’t touch the “sealed” part that can come in contact with the food.

What to do: You have to disassemble the blender to get it really clean. After every use, remove the screw-on bottom, the gasket and the top components. Clean each item separately in warm, soapy water, then let everything dry completely before putting it back together.

Pet bowls. Not surprisingly, the food/water bowls used by your dogs and/or cats are often contaminated with Staph, E. coli and other germs.

What you may not realize: When you pick up your pet’s bowl, bacteria from the rim/sides can be transferred to your hands—and from there to counters, kitchen knives, cutting boards, etc.

What to do: Pet bowls should be washed daily either in a sanitizing dishwasher (with the family’s dishes if you like)…or scrubbed by hand in hot, soapy water, then rinsed. Once a week, soak pet bowls in a bleach rinse (one tablespoon of bleach per one gallon of water) for 10 minutes. Rinse well and allow to dry.

Remote controls. In general, objects with hard, smooth, cool surfaces—remote controls, cell phones, computer keyboards, etc.—tend to harbor fewer germs than other objects/places in the home. But “fewer” doesn’t mean “none.” For example, in tests, 55% of remote controls were found to be contaminated with yeasts/molds, and 5% had coliform bacteria. Nearly one-quarter of cell phones had yeast and mold, and 5% had Staph or coliform bacteria.

What to do: Use a disinfectant wipe (or an alcohol cleaning pad) to wipe the surfaces and keys at least weekly. Be sure to check the manufacturer’s cleaning instructions first.

Dirty laundry. It’s not surprising that germs love dirty laundry. Clothes that you’ve worn have skin cells, bodily secretions and plenty of moisture—all the things that germs need to survive. And the fecal material that’s always present on used underwear is a common cause of infections.

What to do: Use the “hot” setting when washing underwear. The water should be 140°F to 150°F. If you’re buying a new washer/dryer, look for one that’s NSF certified. To earn certification, the machine must be able to reduce microbe populations by 99.9%.

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Source: Lisa Yakas, MS, a microbiologist and senior certification project manager, food equipment, for NSF International (formerly National Sanitation Foundation), based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The nonprofit group has a professional staff of engineers, microbiologists, toxicologists and other health experts who provide testing, certification and technical services, along with human health-risk assessments. NSF.org Date: May 1, 2016 Publication: Bottom Line Health
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