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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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