Get dangerous germs out of your home

November 21, 2013

By Erinn Bucklan,

Even if you're one of the many people who believe that exposing yourself to day-to-day germs is healthy for your immune system, it's still wise to take steps to protect yourself from the most infectious germs in your home.

"Bugs like Escherichia coli (E.coli), salmonella and campylobacter can make you pretty sick or even kill you," says Douglas Powell, professor of diagnostic medicine and pathobiology at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas, and author of

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that seven pathogens cause about 90% of these illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths. Scientists dub them "food-borne illnesses" because they're microbes that invade your body through the gastrointestinal tract. (Considering that we put our hands to our faces anywhere from 18 to 40 times per hour, is it any surprise that our mouths are the primary point of entry?)

You'll recognize the poisoning by the fever, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea that results.

Luckily, it isn't too hard to eliminate the dangerous microbes you may unknowingly drag into your home.

"Chlorine bleach is your friend," says Powell, referring to one of the most effective toxin-destroying products around.

Rooting out the microbes' whereabouts, on the other hand, can be trickier. Read on, and you'll learn how to eliminate from your home the microbes and toxins that could affect your family's health.

Good: Rearrange your fridge to reduce your risk

You don't have to travel to Latin America to experience a case of Montezuma's Revenge. Each year, one in six Americans contracts food poisoning right here on U.S. soil, according to the CDC. In fact, a mere trip to your refrigerator could put you at risk.

"The raw meat you bring home from the grocery store has bacteria that can result in diarrheal disease," says Dr. Rose Devasia, assistant professor at University of Louisville School of Public Health And Information Sciences in Louisville, Kentucky.

A recent report from the Center for Science in the Public Interest listed ground beef, chicken, turkey and steak as the most susceptible to disease.

Devasia recommends double-bagging the meats or placing them on the bottom shelf of your refrigerator on a plate, away from the likes of the apples, strawberries or celery you'll eat cold.

"You'll go on to cook your meat to kill these microbes," she says, "but you don't want that slimy liquid from the package to spill onto the fruits and vegetables you eat raw."

Better: Place toothbrushes far away from the john

You wouldn't lick your toilet on purpose. Yet leaving a damp, exposed toothbrush within three feet of the loo isn't much better.

"Studies have shown that bacteria in the toilet can disperse in the air after flushing it," says Devasia. "Toilet water -- along with whatever you've deposited in it -- gets aerosolized and lands onto what's nearby, like a toothbrush or hand towel."

A recent University of Manchester study found that the average toothbrush contained about 10 million germs, including E. coli and staphylococci.

An easy fix: Put the lid down on the toilet before you yank the lever to dispose of the contents.

Adds Devasia: "We all know the bathroom is not the cleanest place, so wash your hands to avoid getting yourself sick." Soaping up at the sink can reduce your chance of getting ill by 30%.

Best: Leave your shoes at the front door

Sleeping with the enemy may only be a closet door away. If you walk through your house with your shoes on, you may be dragging in all kinds of nasty germs and chemicals from the great outdoors.

The bottoms of your shoes spread many unhealthy agents, from pollen and pesticides on the lawn to salmonella in bird poop. In fact, as many as nine different kinds of pathogens can thrive on shoes, according to a University of Arizona study.

Microbes can survive and even multiply because of nutrient-rich soil and other deposits left on the soles.

"In my house, we take our shoes off when we enter," says Devasia. "Why drag in a bunch of dirt and dust? Even if you clean floors and carpets regularly, there is some level of dirt that remains."

And if the idea of shoe removal cramps your family's style? Tell them it is a lot better than the alternative types of cramps -- the ones brought on by intestinal distress.

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