Would you make a sandwich on your toilet seat? It may be cleaner than your kitchen
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Our homes can be riddled with hidden germs, leading to illnesses and lots of discomfort. While most people would think the restroom area would harbor the most germs, actually one of the greatest offenders is the kitchen.
"Kitchens harbor the majority of the germs in a household," said Dr. Charles Gerba, who goes by the moniker “Dr. Germ." Charles Gerba is a professor in the Departments of Soil, Water and Environmental Science (College of Agriculture), and adjunct Professor in the Divisions of Epidemiology and Biostatistics; Environmental and Community Health (College of Public Health) at the University of Arizona.
His recent research encompasses the transmission of pathogens in indoor environments, identifying pathogen hotspots, ways pathogens move from one location to another, development of new disinfectants and interventions to reduce the exposure to pathogens.
Kitchens aren’t the only culprits for germs that could make you ill. "In the workplace, surfaces can become germ transmitters simply by resting your hand on the countertop while reading a report or bracing while reaching for a ream of paper, coffee cup or making a photocopy," Gerba said.
In an exclusive interview with ProudGreenHome.com, Dr. Gerba talked about the surprising life of germs and bacteria in a home, and some of the products that are on the market that can help kill off
|Dr. Charles Gerba, AKA Dr. Germ|
harmful organisms. Manufacturers are bringing to market products such as paint and countertop materials with antimicrobial properties that offer a long-term barrier against harmful organisms. This interview has been edited for length.
PGH: Where is the germiest room in the home?
CB: Most people don't realize there are more germs that can harm you in the average kitchen than in the average restroom. So it's safer to make a sandwich on a toilet seat than in the average home than it is on the cutting board, believe it or not. Most home kitchens would fail a health department inspection. When you're handling raw meat or poultry, you typically wash your hands before you do, but you should also wash your hands afterwards. You may open the refrigerator door after you thaw the chicken and contaminate the door handle or lay it on the counter and contaminate the counter or the drawer below it.
PGH: Why is that true?
CB: It's largely because people use disinfectants and are good about cleaning restrooms, but may neglect the kitchen, which is where you bring in raw food products. Bacteria grow on the sponges, on the countertops, they get into the sinks, they get on the cutting board. There is 200 times more fecal bacteria on the average cutting board than there is on the average toilet seat. People disinfect the toilet seat, but they don't disinfect the cutting board.
Watch a video about anti microbial paints.
PGH: So cleaning the kitchen with sponges or rags really doesn't help?
CB: The more a person cleans, the germier the house gets because you keep moving everything around. Our research has shown that bachelors have the least germs in the house because they never clean; they just throw everything in the sink. But if you don't use disinfects or antimicrobial products in the kitchen area and the household in general you spread everything around. The soap and detergents remove a lot but the problem is, it's not enough. You have to have really use disinfectant cleaner if you want to make an impact.
PGH: What cleaners should people use?
CB: Lysol kitchen cleaners or Clorox spray products can be used to disinfect surfaces. The best ones are cleaners with disinfectant, because you clean and disinfect at the same time. We see in home studies that they result in dramatic reductions in the amount of bacteria that can make you ill. The best thing to use is paper towel, otherwise you move the germs around, you give them a free ride around the kitchen. Use something disposable instead of a sponge or cloth.
PGH: What about antimicrobial products for homes and buildings?
CB: The problem with disinfectants is that they work for a short period of time, there's no residual effect. So the tendency now is to use surfaces that will act 24x7 to kill germs all the time. They're slower but they're always working. So that's why using antimicrobial cutting boards and antimicrobial towels in the kitchen are good. Silver surfaces are used a lot, its antimicrobial properties have been used for a couple thousand years; the ancient Greeks used silver chalices. The anti microbial products are kind of like a magic bullet in the house, they keep germ levels lower than they normally would be, of the harmful germs you care about, but they don't kill all the germs. You don't want to have to use disinfectants all the time on surfaces, it's too harsh and can be damaging to surfaces. In key areas like kitchens and bathroom countertops, antimicrobial surfaces add an extra barrier that works all the time.
PGH: How long do the antimicrobial properties last in products?
CB: Usually the lifetime of the product. The paints will be active all the time. They're using these paints in hospitals now. We're seeing this in hospitals and it's coming to homes, too, is the use of copper surfaces because the copper won't transfer the germs. These products have some benefit of odor reduction, too, because they tend to kill bacteria that cause the odors.
PGH: Is it worth using the antimicrobial products in your home?
CB: I would get the antimicrobial countertops because it reduces the potential of cross contamination in the household. It helps to reduce the amount of cross contamination in the kitchen area where most foodborne illness occurs. Most people blame restaurants, but 80 percent of foodborne illness occurs in the home. Most people think it's the restaurant, but you never call the health department when you get diarrhea at home. It's hard to quantify how much they help but we know there is a benefit to it and I think it's worth adding the extra barrier in the home to protect everyone.
Read more about going green at home.