Germs – They’re a Pain!

27 12 2012

Do you disinfect your countertops and sinks just before you start baking or cooking?

It sounds logical, but I don’t do it. I clear the debris and swipe at the crumbs before hauling out the pans, flour, sugar, and other yummo ingredients.

I know that at any given moment, my kitchen countertops are not free of germs. (Well, I do use something to kill the little microbes, but only once a day—usually just before bed.)

So, here’s where I’m going with this—my oldest daughter and I were in the germy kitchen last weekend, preparing dinner. She washed the veggies, and then set them on the counter. The germy counter.

I told her to put the clean stuff on a plate, not directly on the counter, because it hadn’t been disinfected. She rolled her eyes (did I mention she knows everything because she’s 17?) and told me I think way too much about germs.

She’s probably right, although I didn’t tell her that.

But, to play devil’s advocate, let’s take a moment and review a typical Saturday.

We go to the grocery store and Costco, touching cart handles and checkout stations and bins, just like the thousands of shoppers before us.

We return to the car, unload boxes and bags into the back end, and get into the front seat.

After I’ve opened the driver’s side door and touched the steering wheel and the gearshift, I put my hands all over the outside and inside of my purse, trying to unearth the hand sanitizer. I squirt on more than I need and rub briskly until dry, after which I promptly put my clean hands onto the germy steering wheel and gearshift.

Did you know that once the sanitizer is dry, it won’t kill any new germs that make it to your hands?

We drive home, grab the boxes and bags, carry them into the house and put them on the floor, chairs, and countertops in the kitchen. If we only have a few boxes or bags, we just use the countertops.

Hey, it’s easier!

The girls put away the groceries while I do the debris-clearing and crumb-swiping. Then, out come the pans and flour and what-have-you that we’ll be using for that day’s baking or cooking.

You see my problem. In fact, after explaining our routine, I’m just now seeing how lazy I’ve been about a clean cooking environment. My excuse is, I know how germy the countertops are and I never put any food on them.

My daughter is right in that I do think too much about germs, but I’m right in that there are some basics we should observe to reduce the risk of infections, which I swear I’ll start observing as of this minute.

Never put purses, briefcases, grocery bags or boxes, or anything that’s been sitting around a germy environment, on the kitchen countertops. Whatever germs the boxes etc. have on their bottoms will transfer to the counter.

Take two minutes to disinfect the cooking and prep areas.

Wash hands with soap and water, and realize that the germs you have on your hands when you turn on the water will stay on the faucet for a certain amount of time, unless you then disinfect the faucet. (It’s never-ending, really, isn’t it?!)

Well, I’m sure you know there are heaps of rules for safe handling of food. But that’s about all my stomach can take. Please share your keep-it-clean cooking ideas in the comments!

By Trish Parnell





iPad shmiPad, It’s Germy!

7 04 2011

Don’t you love your iPad? Your Droid? Your iPhone? Whatever touch-screen device you use, isn’t it (sigh) maaaarvelous?

It’s also germier than a subway toilet, according to a study published in the Journal of Applied Microbiology. Viruses can stay viable on the surface of these devices for awhile. If we share our touch-screen device with others, the germs they leave behind can transfer to our fingertips. Once that happens, it’s easy to become infected.

So, how can we disinfect the device without getting moisture into the inner workings or damaging the surface?

According to Apple’s public relations team, the only way to clean an iPad is to:

…unplug all cables and turn off iPad (press and hold the Sleep/ Wake button, then slide the onscreen slider). Use a soft, slightly damp, lint-free cloth. Avoid getting moisture in openings. Don’t use window cleaners, household cleaners, aerosol sprays, solvents, alcohol, ammonia, or abrasives to clean iPad. The iPad screen has an oleophobic coating; simply wipe the screen with a soft, lint-free cloth to remove oil left by your hands. The ability of this coating to repel oil will diminish over time with normal usage, and rubbing the screen with an abrasive material will further diminish its effect and may scratch your screen.

Not the greatest advice for disinfecting, since water and wiping do little to kill germs.

One way to keep germs off of our device is to use a case and a screen protector, then clean/disinfect those pieces rather than the actual device.

Another way to curb the transmission of germs from a touch-screen device is good old hand hygiene. Washing our hands or using a hand sanitizer before and after we use a touch-screen device will limit the spread of germs.

Now, we got some Splodin’ to do!

(photo courtesy henke on Flickr)





Do As I Say, Not As I Do

4 08 2010

Mo, the silent one

I just spent a few days with two colleagues from PKIDs.  We have a lot in common: we’re moms of school-age children, we work for the same nonprofit, we work from home offices, and we’re all unusually aware of how efficiently unclean hands can spread germs.

So why, I have to ask, did we keep forgetting to clean our hands before noshing?  We’d get about a third of the way through bread or something else you pick up with your hands, and one of us would stop and look guiltily at the other two.  Out came the sanitizer as we agreed that it was good the kids weren’t there to see our fall from grace.

Rachael, who is more thoughtful than I, had several ideas as to why we were not as good as usual about keeping our hands clean:

  • Like most people, one of the biggest barriers to handwashing is that we simply forget in the rush of daily life
  • We were out of our routines and routine is an important step in keeping hands clean
  • We didn’t have a plan – when out of our routine, it’s important to have a plan
  • Hey, at least we put on the hand sanitizer as soon as we remembered

On the other hand, Mo has been mysteriously silent about the question of our forgetfulness.  She may have come down with something . . .

If, like us, you’re having too good a time to stop and find soap and water, at least tuck some hand sanitizer in your bag or pocket.  Maybe you’ll remember to use it!

Wish we had.





Germs – It’s a Symbiotic Thing

26 04 2010

We have 100 trillion microbes in and on our bodies. Most of these little critters don’t affect us—no harm, no foul.  Some germs even help out with digestion and other functions, and some cause illness.

Despite the fact that we’re walking bags of bugs, we don’t want to think about it and we definitely don’t want to get more germs, at least not the disease-causing kind.

Photo courtesy "bmann"

To prevent disease and general yuckiness in the home and elsewhere, we are a sponge-and-cleaner wielding people. Some of us more than others. (That’s right, Mom, I’m talking about you.)

We can’t keep our homes and offices germ-free, nor should we.  We have a symbiotic relationship with the germs in our world that requires a delicate balance of healthy intimacy to maintain.

But, we don’t want pathogenic germs to get the upper hand.  They’re the germs capable of causing disease.

Being clean and tidy helps keep the nasty numbers down, but germs will always be with us. Our bodies fight pathogens off all day long as we go about our business.

And when we actually do get around to cleaning, we tend to focus on obvious trouble spots (bathrooms, kitchens) while ignoring places we don’t typically think of as germ hot zones. We’re talking about our offices, our phones, our keyboards.

Dr. Charles Gerba, a professor of microbiology at The University of Arizona at Tucson, has done a lot of research on viruses and bacteria in offices.

His work reveals startling facts. For instance, the germiest place in any type of office is something you use every day. “The phone is typically the dirtiest piece of equipment in an office because it goes straight to your mouth, and you never clean or disinfect it,” says Gerba.

Right behind phones are desks, which often pull double-duty as restaurant tables, and keyboards, which are tricky to clean and good at collecting things like dirt, hair, food particles, dust and bacteria. Many of us like to grab a bite while catching up on email, but studies may make you rethink that: keyboards are usually much germier than toilet seats.

Things get complicated if many people share a computer. This is bad news if you absent-mindedly bite your nails or touch your nose or eyes while working.

Women’s offices tend to have more germs in them, as women tend to bring in and take out more items like bags and purses, which can carry germs that get transferred to office equipment.

However, men’s wallets are often found to be germier than women’s purses.

So, how can you protect yourself at work without turning into a worrywart? In an interview with Entrepreneur, Gerba suggested you:

  • Wipe down your desk and surrounding items with a disinfecting wipe once a week.
  • Keep a hand sanitizer at your desk and use it throughout the day.
  • If you tend to eat at your desk on a regular basis, think again–this behavior is inviting bacteria to grow at your fingertips.
  • Wash coffee mugs and glasses on a regular basis.
  • If you’re sick, don’t go to work.

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The Stink About Public Bathrooms

31 03 2010

Public restrooms!  Dirty, wet, odorous endurance trials—never fun, sometimes necessary.

Most of us detest public restrooms and we all have certain rituals we perform when we have to use them: piling on a liberal amount of toilet seat covers, hovering over the seat, using an elbow to open and close doors. Sometimes we just “hold it” until a more appealing option comes along.

Public restrooms are said to harbor an unhealthy mix of microbes. This may be true, but we were surprised to find those germs waiting in unlikely places.

Myth #1: Toilet seats are the germiest places in a public restroom.

Not so, say the experts. The germiest place in a public restroom is the floor. Also in the running are routinely touched objects: latches and sink handles.

Myth #2: The womens’ restroom is usually cleaner than the men’s restroom.

While it may smell better (due to the lack of urinals) and be more appealing (due to male grooming habits), women’s restrooms usually have higher bacteria counts than men’s restrooms, due to women spending more time in the restroom and often bringing their children with them to take care of business.

Bonus disgusting fact: germs are transported from the restroom when women set their bags and purses on the restroom floor and then take them back outside. What do the experts suggest? Use a hook or, if possible, have a traveling companion on the outside hold onto it for you.

Myth #3: The farther away a stall is from the door, the less used it is.

Actually, most people believe this and use the stalls that are farthest from the door. The cleanest stalls are usually the ones closest to the door.

Myth #4: Air dryers are more sanitary because you don’t have to push a lever/button.

Surprisingly, not so! Air drying machines blow germy air directly onto your hands, your clothes, and into the air you breathe.

Myth #5: Squatting is safer than using a cover or just using a bare seat itself.

Maybe, but squatting doesn’t allow the bladder to be fully emptied, putting you at risk for a urinary infection.

Myth #6: I can hold it, I guess! No big deal.

Holding it for too long also puts you at risk for a urinary infection.

Myth #7: Bathrooms harbor germs you don’t find in normal settings.

Bathrooms have the same germs you come into contact with everywhere else by shaking hands, touching rails, and opening doors.

Myth #8: All my rituals are useless and unnecessary.

There’s nothing wrong with turning off the faucet and opening the door with paper towels. No one is going to laugh at you for using a paper toilet seat cover. Rituals are there for comfort and do contribute to your health. You don’t need to pretend a public restroom is the same as the one you have at home, but it might be easier to “go” if you aren’t thoroughly disgusted by your surroundings. Just be sure to lather those hands after you’re done!

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