When you visit the grocery store, do you stare at the handle of the cart, like it is an oncoming battle between the germs in public places, and your immune system? Never are we more aware of the impact of bacteria and viruses on our health, than we are during colder months, when the cold and flu season returns.
While we cringe at dirty restaurant tables, public restrooms and other areas that are believe are laden with germs and viruses, some of the highest volume infectious surface areas, aren’t at the mall. They are right inside your home, and where you work. We’ll explain where the hot spots are, common infectious diseases and bugs, and what you can do to reduce the bacterial load in your daily routine, and stay healthy all year.
1. The Dish Sponge
It’s responsible for cleaning up crumbs, spills, and scrubbing dishes clean of both cooked and uncooked foods. It should be no surprise then, that the seemingly harmless and helpful dish sponge, would be one of the highest sources of bacterial risk in your home. Both salmonella and E. coli are found in both natural and artificial dishcloths and sponges.
Tip: There are many routine ways that you can sanitize your sponge or dishcloth. You can place a wet sponge in the microwave on high, for under three minutes, to sanitize and remove bacteria. Other people use a sponge for two days, before placing it in the dishwasher. The hot water and soap, and hot dry setting will eliminate bacteria. Remember to alternate between sanitized sponges to reduce infection.
2. Television Remotes and Game Controllers
Let’s not discuss the fact that a recent study from Michigan University, revealed that less than 5% of people wash their hands long enough to kill bacteria, and we tend to hold our remote controls for a long, long time. Quick fact: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a 20 second hand washing, using soap and water.
At home, are your remote controls and gaming console devices making you sick? The design of most handheld controllers, is full of raised buttons and crevices that are a perfect breeding ground for virulent bacteria to multiply. The room temperature of the home, and other factors including food and dry skin deposits, turn remote controls into hot spots for germs and bacterial infection.
Tip: On your list of weekly house cleaning and disinfecting, remember to wipe down all remote controls using an antibacterial wipe (front and back). Don’t forget to shake, dust and wipe down your computer and laptop monitors too, which can hide other bacterial health threats, like MRSA.
We have to admit, we were a little surprised about this one. Hands up if you thought that bacteria could not live or multiply, on a bar of soap? We did too! But it turns out that the moist surface area of bars of soap, combined with human skin and hair follicles, provides an ample breeding ground. And that loofah or artificial fiber sponge you love in the tub or shower? Clinical studies have shown them to be a source of both mold and yeast growth.
Tip: Replace natural fiber (i.e., sea cucumber) loofah’s every three weeks. Plastic fiber sponges should be replaced every 6-8 weeks, as artificial sponges are more difficult for bacteria to replicate on. Consider switching to liquid soaps, instead of bars to reduce bacterial load, and wipe down the dispenser or pump every week with an anti-bacterial cleanser.
4. Bypass the Coffee Pot (Unless You’ve Got Hand Sanitizer)
Everyone loves the coffee dispensers that offer single cup servings, with a flavored pod. While having a wider assortment of delicious free coffee at work is a perk, did you know that the shared coffee maker is one of the most bacterial laden devices in the office?
Conventional coffee pots are made of glass, or aluminum, and the filter and coffee ground mixture, helps dispose of much of the moisture that leads to bacterial growth. The classic type of coffee pot has a basket for the grounds, and it was habit to rinse (but not wash) both the filter area and the pot.
Naturally, the handle and other parts of the coffee maker are touched by multiple people throughout the day. But do you ever see anyone spending time sanitizing the coffee pot? On the inside, instant coffee makers and many pod designed single-serve models, are prone to mold (particularly in the discard tray). Handles and buttons are also loaded with over 60 types of harmful bacterial, according to a recent study. Drinking the coffee, is rarely a threat, but staff can contract the bacteria on hands, and transfer it quickly to other services, or mucus membranes that are susceptible to infection.
Tip: Wipe down the surfaces of the coffee maker, counter and discard tray frequently, with a solution of bleach and water, to disinfect. Use hand sanitizer after visiting the break room or staff kitchen, and avoid eating food at your own desk, to reduce bacterial load in your immediate work area.
5. Vending Machine Buttons
Whether at work, or out shopping, vending machines are a convenient way to grab a snack or a drink, when you are on-the-go. However, did you know that the buttons and dispensing tray of the average vending machine, has more germs per square inch than a public bus?
Fingers touch buttons, and the display glass of vending machines. Hands that handle coin or paper money, also transfer bacteria to the vending machine, increasing the risk of infection. As a rule, neither the vending machine owner, or the janitorial crew, routinely clean or disinfect food vendors, and they are a prime location for pathogens to grow.
Tip: Use an antibacterial wipe on the buttons, before you press them, or ensure that you thoroughly wash your hands with an antibacterial gel immediately after using the vending machine. Or save some money and pack your own healthy snacks or drinks.
Remember that assumptions are not always correct, when it comes to bacterial threats in everyday environments. For instance, it was Dr. Charles Gerba, an environmental microbiologist from the University of Arizona, who reported the difference between an office toilet seat (49 germs per square inch) and an office desk (21,000 germs) and phones, which had more than 25,000 germs per square inch. Which would make the bathroom at your office, a safer less infectious place to eat lunch, than your own desk. Food for thought. There are some lifestyle changes you can make to benefit your immune system.