Which germs lurk in your home?

Thought your house was clean? Think again. The average kitchen cutting-board contains more germs than the average household toilet seat. This article is not for the fainthearted.

The silicone in bathrooms is the dirtiest place in the home whereas first it was the kitchen sponge.

The worst spot

And the first prize goes to the kitchen sponge. Ironically this is the item used for cleaning, but more likely it merely spreads the germs about. Microbiologists at the Arizona University tested a kitchen cloth that had been used for only one day and discovered enough germs to make you sick. The dishcloth grew both fecal E. coli and fecal streptococcus bacteria. According to Dr Charles Gerba, environmental microbiologist from the University of Arizona, the kitchen is the most germ-ridden area in your home.

Everything plus the kitchen sink

The kitchen chopping board is also a source of huge numbers of bacteria. Scrubbing it down with very hot water and normal household cleaner every week or so will do the trick and needs to be done with both plastic and wooden chopping boards. Dr Bridget Farham, a Cape Town doctor recommends that one also should not cut raw chicken or meat on the chopping board and then use it to cut vegetables or bread straight after without washing it in between. This is how salmonella can get into the salads.

The kitchen sink should be washed daily, the kitchen floor at least once a week and kitchen bins should also be washed regularly. Cloths and sponges can be disinfected by washing them in a dishwasher or washing machine, using detergent or bleach. Kitchen taps, the kitchen telephone, the handle on the fridge, counter tops and the kitchen sink are all bacterial hotspots in the kitchen. Generally, says Dr Gerba, there are more fecal bacteria in the kitchen sink than in the toilet.

The bathroom

If that’s how the kitchen looks, what is going on in the bathroom? Generally, less bacterial activity than in the kitchen, says Dr Gerba. The reason for this is that people often use anti-bacterial cleaning agents in the toilet, destroying most of the dangerous germs. If not, it often happens that fecal bacteria end up on toothbrushes – a less than pleasant thought.

The areas surrounding the bath and the edges of the shower also can do with a regular clean-up, as germs love lurking there, because it is hot and moist.

Should we all go on an anti-bacterial cleaning frenzy?

“Not really”, says Dr Bridget Farham, a Cape Town doctor. Normal cleaning agents are preferable to anti-bacterial ones, as the latter ones have a tendency to alter the balance of the bacteria population, thereby sometimes killing off the ‘goodies’ and making way for the ‘baddies’. Bacteria is a normal part of life, in fact if all bacteria were to disappear, we would all soon be dead, as we need them to survive. Furthermore, the more anti-bacterial cleaning agents we use, the more we contribute to the growing problem of anti-biotic resistance.

“We should remember that pathogens share our planet and that the odds of getting sick from these infections are rather low” according to Dr Gerba. “But when they do make you sick, it is usually rather serious.”

“Those most at risk are the very young, the very old and those whose immunity has been compromised in some way. Crowded places, unsanitary conditions and improper food handling all can put you at risk of bacterial infections.”

So the lowdown is that one should keep things clean, wash cutting boards and sponges, wash hands at least five times a day and use normal household cleaning agents regularly. This also decreases the chances of viral infections like flu being passed on from one person to another via hand conduct. There is no need to go and buy anti-bacterial cleaning liquid by the truckful – you could be doing more harm than good.

(Susan Erasmus, Health24, updated May 2010)

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