We count on regular cleaning to help make sure our home is safe and clear of harmful germs. But those germs are mischievous: They hide in all sorts of places that normal tidying up might miss. Cheryl Luptowski, a home safety expert and public information officer, talks foodborne illness villains and germ hotspots.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that foodborne illnesses (over nine million cases annually) are caused by just nine major pathogens, or germs, and that 21 percent of cases stem from food prepared at home. One of the easiest ways for germs to transfer from the environment to your body is when you touch or eat food that has been exposed, Luptowski says. The two types of germs to look out for? Salmonella and coliforms.
"Salmonella can be found on all kinds of food types like undercooked or raw poultry, egg shells, [or] produce. It can be anywhere in the food environment. That's why proper handling of the food is so important," Luptowski says. Coliforms are a family of bacteria, some of which are dangerous and some of which are not. E. coli is an example of a potentially harmful coliform, which can cause digestive problems, fever, and infection. Salmonella can cause similar digestive and immune problems.
The impact of germs and a dirty household on health and day-to-day life, however, will vary from household to household."You've got to try to find where the hot spots are in your particular home and then be smart about protecting your [individual] family," Luptowski says. Pets, children, and climate can create different hotspots, but the five below are pretty typical across all households.
Hotspots in the Kitchen
Even though you're washing and sanitizing food preparation surfaces like countertops and cutting boards during and after use, you may have missed these germ hiding spots.
Refrigerator Vegetable Compartments: The meat and cheese compartment also harbors germs and grime, but the vegetable compartment can get overlooked because produce seems to be a bit more 'innocent'. Hiding amidst the lettuce leaves and fruit skins are the same salmonella and E. coli culprits you’d expect on meat and dairy. Luptowski recommends cleaning produce drawers weekly. Simply remove the drawers from your fridge and wash them in warm soapy water, making sure to completely dry the drawers before putting them back, to avoid creating a damp environment where germs could blossom.
Water Filters: Once water filters are inserted onto a faucet or replaced in a pitcher, they should be pretty safe from germs. But it's when they get changed that they can be exposed and germs can grow inside, Luptowski says. When you change the filter, make sure you wash your hands first and don't expose the filter to outside germs by placing it on the counter or unwrapping it early.
Sponges and Dish Rags: Because these two tools are routinely left out while they're still damp and are used to clean a multitude of surfaces, they pick up germs easily. The best way to keep your sponge safe day to day is to rinse it out completely and squeeze out all of the water. Then microwave it for two minutes, which should sanitize it, Luptowski says. As a bonus, cleaning it daily will extend your sponge’s life by a couple of weeks. She recommends changing dish rags daily.
Hotspots in the Bathroom
The bathroom is a great place for germs, because of its damp, warm environment.
Toothbrush Holder: "The toothbrush holder is actually the germiest spot in the bathroom," Luptowski says. And because you stick your toothbrush, well, on your teeth, it's important to keep the holder clean. Unfortunately, germs can disperse in the air when you're washing your hands or if people flush with the toilet lid up. To keep it clean, wash the holder in the dishwasher on a weekly basis, or wipe it down with sanitizing wipes and then rinse to clean.
Faucet Handles: Because faucet handles are used before and after you wash your hands and are constantly exposed to airborne germs, make sure to clean them at least once a week. Sanitizing wipes are a simple way to go.
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