As Old Man Winter settles in for his yearly stay, it’s time to brush up on your disinfecting smarts.
Cold and flu viruses can fly up to six feet through the air, says Joseph Rubino, former director of microbiology at RB, the creators of Lysol. Harmful bacteria and viruses can lurk in places you’d never suspect, and knowing those places inside and outside the home, can help you avoid getting sick this winter.
Here’s a list of the germiest places you might encounter this winter and how to keep yourself safe.
There are microbes all over our homes, but most are perfectly benign. Unfortunately, though, there are also many harmful ones, including cold and flu viruses, salmonella, listeria, mold, staph, fecal matter, and E. coli. And no-these microbes aren’t found primarily in the bathroom. We tend to be the most germophobic about our toilets and clean them regularly, but it’s actually the kitchen that’s home to most of these germs.
Here are the places in your home that are hotspots for germs and how to disinfect them properly.
You might want to sit down for this: According to microbiologist Charles Gerba, or “Dr. Germ,” there is more fecal bacteria in your kitchen sink than there is in your toilet after flushing it. In fact, your toilet-slurping dog has the right idea; that water can be cleaner than the water coming out of your kitchen faucet!
Gerba recommends regularly scrubbing your sinks with bleach, or with a kitchen cleaning product that contains bleach. You can make your own solution with 1 tablespoon of bleach to a gallon of water, or try finding a more environmentally safe option through the EPA website. For best results, allow the cleaning solution to sit for a bit before wiping, or use kitchen wipes for a more targeted cleanup. Be sure to clean the entire sink, including the drain, faucet and handles, because those bacteria love to spread their joy. It’s also smart to wipe down all nearby surfaces, like your counters or anything you have on display.
Your dishwashing sponge can hold many more germs than you’ll ever want to think about. Most people know to wash their hands after handling raw poultry and meat, but these same people will wipe down germy surfaces with their kitchen sponge-and then use that same sponge to wash the dinner dishes.
A 2017 study found 362 different species of bacteria living in used kitchen sponges. And, a total of 82 billion bacteria were living in just one cubic inch of space! And here’s the kicker: Microwaving those sponges had no effect on the bacteria.
To keep the germ party out of your sponge, wash it down after each use with hot water and dishwashing soap and replace your sponges every week.
There’s another bacterial meet-up happening both inside and outside your refrigerator. The National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) found that 36% of tested refrigerator meat compartments contained salmonella and E. coli, while 36% of vegetable compartments tested positive for salmonella and 14% contained listeria. Gerba adds that refrigerator door handles can also be germ-infested, as home cooks regularly touch them after handling raw meat and poultry.
Use the same bleach cleansers for wiping down the inside and outside of your refrigerator on a regular basis.
According to the NSF, 36% of tested rubber spatulas and pizza cutters contained E. coli. And cutting boards fared no better.
“Recent surveys of homes found more fecal bacteria on a cutting board in the average home than a toilet seat,” said Gerba. “It’s actually safer to make your sandwich on a toilet seat than a cutting board.”
If you’ve just lost your appetite, the solution is simple: Wipe down all cooking equipment after each use with the same diluted bleach solution you’re using for your sink. Rinse off the kitchen gadget with a mild dishwashing solution when you’re done disinfecting it to make sure you’re not eating bleach.
Dining out can be great fun, especially when the weather rules out barbecues and picnics in the park. Unfortunately, though, restaurants can be fertile breeding grounds for germs. Here are the surfaces to be wary of when dining out this winter.
It’s a good idea to look at how tables are being cleaned. If they’re not being sanitized with a bleach solution, ask for extra napkins to keep from putting silverware directly on the tabletop.
They’re handled by hundreds of diners, and rarely cleaned; so it’s no wonder they’re full of germs! It’s fine to flip through the menu as you choose your entrée, but be sure to wash your hands after placing your order.
That iconic slice of citrus fruit on your water glass? It may just be your gateway to illness.
According to a study published in the Journal of Environmental Health, nearly 70% of lemon wedges on the rims of restaurant glasses contain disease-causing microbes like E. coli and other fecal bacteria.
When dining out this winter, tell your server you’ll skip the fruit on your glass. It’s just not worth the risk.
You might be careful about washing your hands, but can you say the same for the diner who ate at your table before you? Condiment containers in restaurants can spread germs from one diner to another, so you may be walking out of a restaurant with a whole bunch of souvenirs you can really do without.
Holding that ketchup bottle with a napkin won’t help; napkins are too porous to act as a barrier for microorganisms. Instead, wipe down the condiment container with a disinfectant wipe or hand sanitizer before using.
In public places
Shopping cart handles can be the worst germ offenders in the winter. To keep yourself from bringing home the germs from the dozens of shoppers who used your cart before you, wipe down the handles with a disinfectant wipe (offered in many grocery stores) and wash all produce well before eating.
The waiting room at the doctor’s office
If there ever was a place germs love hanging out, it’s the doctor’s office. While the exam room will hopefully be as sterile as possible, you can’t say the same for the waiting room. If you need to visit the doctor this winter, try to keep at least two chairs between you and other patients and to pack your own tissues. If you’re bringing children along, it’s best to bring your own books and toys to keep them occupied.
Here’s wishing you a healthy, happy winter!