“Where did I get this infection from?” The answer is unfortunately may be kind of awful. Our houses are filled with bacteria from our feces. The most common–and unimaginable items–like your wash cloth, cutting board and linens. In fact, 50 to 80 percent of foodborne illnesses are contracted in the home, not in restaurants.
Cutting Fresh Fruit: Cutting Board or Toilet Seat
According to Charles Gerba, Ph.D., a professor of environmental microbiology at the University of Arizona, there are 200 times more feces bacteria on the average cutting board vs a toilet seat. In fact cutting boards are notoriously dirty. Many people simply rinse it off instead of washing well. Bacteria thrive in the grooves formed by the knife-cuts.
- Solution: Wash your cutting board thoroughly with soap and water. If possible, run it through the dishwasher after each use. High heat for drying is important to kill bacteria. If it’s a wood cutting board, try using a little bleach.
Kitchen Sink or Toilet Bowl?
Toilet bowls have less bacteria than kitchen sink according to Eileen Abruzzo, director of infection control at Long Island College Hospital of Brooklyn, New York. Although most people take steps to disinfect their toilet bowls, few give their kitchen sink the same consideration according to Dr. Abruzzo who adds, “They rinse their sinks with water and assume they are clean — but they’re not.”
- Solution: wash your sink with a solution of bleach and water once a day. Dr. Michael Freedman of Evolve Medical adds, “We strongly recommend against cloth hand towels. You hate to waste but bacteria thrive on damp fabric. And run your sponge through the dishwasher every cycle–or microwave it to kill bacteria.”
In a recent multicountry study by the public-education group Hygiene Council, a whopping 28 percent of households were found to be heavily contaminated with bacteria, which can live on dry surfaces for days, or even months. In that time, they can migrate from, say, bathroom to hand to cutting board to mouth.
Other items near the kitchen sink which are invariably covered in bacteria are hand towels and your sponge. To avoid excessive kitchen bacteria, change your hand towels daily (or use disposable towels) and clean your sponge daily–either running it through the washing machine or microwaving for 1 minute.
Wash Cloths and Towels: Change Once per Week or Once per Day?
Skin cells slough off your body and stick to the fabric of towels and wash cloths. And bacteria love damp, woven cloth filled with delicious skin cells. Wash cloths, in particular, are like a banquet for bacteria. Which then transfer to back to your skin, to the kitchen and eventually into your mouth.
- Solution: Change your washcloth every day and towel at least once per week. Remember to wash in hot water — warm or cold water will not kill bacteria.
Sheets: Bacteria Love Them!
Studies have found a cornucopia of feces, salmonella, and E. coli on bed linens—even ones fresh out of a washer. Research shows after just one night’s rest, sheets can accumulate around 10 billion microbes.
- Solution: Wash your sheets once a week in hot water. Adding a little bleach to the whites adds another layer of elimination of bacteria.
Remote Control: Bacteria on a Stick
In addition to bacteria, remote controls have tested positive for viruses. In fact, 50 percent of television remotes were found to have rhinovirus in a University of Virginia study. The rhinovirus can live there for days, and other germs can survive for up to a few months in all the buttons, nooks and crannies.
- Solution: Before you ruin your remote control, be aware that sanitizers don’t work well because you can’t get the cleaner into all the crevices. Evolve suggests using a plastic-sleeve protector that can be wiped clean daily with a disinfecting wipe or other type of sanitizer. When you’re traveling, bring along a few ziplock bags to slip onto the remotes in hotels. Secret home remedy: just use fresh saran wrap.
Computer Keyboard and Mouse
Just as the remote has a lot of nooks and crannies, so does your keyboard and mouse. Unlike the remote, though, how often do we find ourselves in the position pictured on the left.
- Solution: Although they sell wipeable plastic covers, the cheap solution is to wash your hands frequently and/or use hand sanitizer before and after using your computer keyboard.
Toothbrush and the Toilet
As we know, bacteria love a moist area to grow. Bacteria from your mouth can grow on toothbrushes but if that isn’t enough, finding out that feces from your toilet bowl can make it to your toothbrush! Dr. Charles P. Gerba found that flushing the toilet sends a spray of bacteria- and virus-contaminated water droplets into air. These germs, he found, can float around in the bathroom for at least two hours after each flush before landing on surfaces — including your toothbrush.
- Solution: Replace your toothbrush often, particularly after you’ve been sick, and close your toilet lid before flushing.
Salt and Pepper Shaker: One of the Dirtiest Places in your Home
A 2008 study by researchers at the University of Virginia found viruses on 41% of home objects and on 100% of salt and pepper shakers tested. And that’s at home. Imagine how dirty the restaurant salt and pepper shakers must be.
- Solution: When you wipe the kitchen table after eating, wipe off the salt and pepper shaker too.
The most important lesson to take-away from all of these alarming germ facts is that germs are everywhere. But there is a very important step before you can get sick: your hand has to touch your face, which we do all the time subconsciously. Therefore, the overwhelmingly most important thing we can do to avoid getting sick is frequent hand washing and avoiding touching our face.
Lots of germs are harmless — many are even good for your health. But you can help protect yourself from those that aren’t by keeping your hands clean. In fact, Evolve Medical recently published a blog encouraging parents to let their kids eat dirt! (read article) The CDC recommends regular hand washing with soap and water, washing your hands for 20 seconds — the time it takes you to sing Happy Birthday twice.
Remember that your hands transfer bacteria and viruses to your eyes, nose, and mouth and they can also transfer germs to others. Keep it clean!