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How Clean Should We Be?


When your child is sick, you definitely want to go to the doctor to get him checked out. But many childhood illnesses are caused by viruses. Antibiotics won’t fight those or speed your little one’s recovery in those cases.  

“The first response shouldn’t be to demand to put your child on an antibiotic, which will kill the good bacteria in order to fight the bad bacteria,” Barnes says. Good bacteria live in our guts, and we need them for digestion.

Also, if you use antibiotics too often, they might not work as well when you really need them.

Germs: Where to Fight

Even if you don’t have to stress about everything, there are some key things to focus on to keep your family healthy and happy. You can be "germ smart," say the experts, by sticking to some basics.

  • Use separate cutting boards and utensils for produce and for raw meat, poultry, and seafood. Wash countertops, utensils, and cutting boards in hot, soapy water.
  • Use a food thermometer. Cook whole meats to 145 F, ground meats to 160 F, and chicken and turkey to 165 F.
  • Don't leave out food for more than 2 hours. Keep it to less than 1 hour when it is warm outside.
  • Disinfect kitchen counters before and after preparing food. Use paper towels or sanitizing wipes.
  • Disinfect bathroom surfaces often -- especially if someone in the house is sick.

Wash your hands often, including before and after preparing food, after going to the bathroom or handling diapers, after handling pets, and whenever they look dirty.

The 5-Second Rule

So is it really OK to pick up something and eat it when it hits the ground? The feelings on the 5-second rule are mixed.

A study by Clemson University researchers says 99% of bacteria are transferred the second something hits the floor. So if there's salmonella or other dangerous germs lurking on the ground, it's picked up instantly.

So take precautions like cleaning up chicken juice and follow other food safety basics. But Weinstock isn't that worried.

"I think you can extend the 5-second rule. I think if something falls on the floor on your home and you want to pick it up and eat it, I don’t think you're going to get sick,” he says. “There may be an ick factor. But it's not a problem. I think we can relax a bit."

"You don’t have to be too fastidious about your children, your house, your pets, the backyard. All this probably carries very low risk and some of these exposures may actually be healthy," says Weinstock. "Allow your kids some latitude to experience the world. As they grow up, with a little luck, they'll be less prone to some of these diseases."

Reviewed on February 21, 2014

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