The Real Deal on Germs
GERMOPHOBE RULE #5: Fruits and vegetables -- even prewashed ones -- must be rinsed again at home.
REALITY CHECK: When it comes to food preparation, you can't be too
careful. Even prewashed, ready-to-eat foods can be contaminated with traces of
dirt, bacteria, and pesticides. To remove these residual contaminants, clean
all produce with water and a scrub brush, then pat dry with a clean cloth or
paper towel before serving. Remember to wash your hands, utensils, and kitchen
surfaces with hot, soapy water after handling fresh produce to avoid
contaminating other foods.
GERMOPHOBE RULE #6: You wash your baby's binkie every time she drops it on the kitchen floor.
REALITY CHECK: Moms joke about the five-second rule. But any amount
of time on the floor is long enough for dropped objects to become contaminated
with illness-causing bacteria like salmonella and E. coli, according to a
recent Clemson University study. An object or piece of food dropped on a
kitchen or bathroom floor is more likely to pick up these harmful bugs, but
it's always best to discard dropped food and clean fallen items with hot
water and soap before giving them back to your baby.
GERMOPHOBE RULE #7: Toys are cleaned weekly.
REALITY CHECK: Germs can live on toys for long periods of time, so
it's wise to sanitize the items used most often and those that frequently get
put in a child's mouth -- still, unless a sick child has played with them, a
monthly cleaning should suffice. You can safely disinfect many things -- from
plastic toys to lunchboxes to high-chair trays -- with a diluted bleach
solution, such as that found in Clorox Anywhere Hard Surface daily sanitizing
spray. Many plastic toys can be cleaned in the dishwasher; wash stuffed animals
in hot water in the washing machine (dry thoroughly to prevent molding).
GERMOPHOBE RULE #8: Antibacterial products are used throughout your home to keep germs at bay.
REALITY CHECK: The overuse of antibacterial products has been linked
to antibiotic-resistant superbugs, which is one reason the American Medical
Association doesn't support their everyday application. Instead, save the
heavy-hitting bacteria killers for kitchen and bathroom areas that truly need
it, says Elizabeth Scott, Ph.D., codirector of the Simmons Center for Hygiene
and Health in Home and Community at Simmons College in Boston. And while hand
sanitizers work great when you can't get to a sink, soap and water is still
best for removing dirt and germs. In fact, washing for 10 seconds the
old-fashioned way kills as much bacteria -- 90 percent -- as most antibacterial
products do, according to a recent study.
GERMOPHOBE RULE #9: Kids' clothes are always washed separately.
REALITY CHECK: Once your child is past the newborn stage, when her
skin is more sensitive to harsh laundry detergents, there's no reason to create
more work for yourself on laundry day -- unless someone in your family is sick
with a stomach bug, the flu, or a skin infection. "Some bacteria and
viruses can survive standard wash cycles," says Rotbart. To be safe, wash a
sick family member's clothes separately using bleach and the hottest
temperature deemed safe for the clothing, and always dry clothes in a hot
dryer, which kills more bacteria than air-drying or cool spins. To keep germs
from spreading, wash your hands after handling dirty laundry and sanitize your
washing machine monthly by running an empty cold-water cycle and adding 1 cup
of bleach to the wash water.
Originally published December 11, 2007
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