Disinfecting Kitchen Cuts Disease Risk

Where do disease-causing bacteria tend to accumulate in your house? Surprisingly, it's the kitchen, not the bathroom, that's a hot spot for microbes. The good news is that common household disinfectants are highly effective against the bacteria that cause food-borne illness, and researchers have demonstrated that the risk of getting sick declines dramatically when disinfectants are used regularly.

Dr. Charles Gerba, a microbiologist at the University of Arizona, Tucson, and his colleagues conducted a study to determine whether disinfectants containing hypochlorite bleach really make a difference, not just in bacterial levels but in the risk of contracting a food-borne illness.

Gerba and colleagues visited 15 homes, sampling a variety of sites on a weekly basis. Next they provided the homeowners with cleaning products, all of which contained the same disinfectant, and then obtained additional samples. For the last part of the study, homeowners followed specific instructions for cleaning kitchen surfaces, cutting boards, sinks, and floors.

The highest levels of contamination were found in areas that remain damp, such as the kitchen sponge or dishcloth, kitchen and bath sink drains, and the kitchen faucet handle. Bathroom countertops, bathroom floors, and toilet seats had the lowest bacterial levels.

Ordinary cleaning practices had little effect on bacteria, but disinfectant products reduced the bacterial level by 95%.

Cleaning counters, cutting boards, sinks, faucets and refrigerator handles with disinfectant on a regular basis lowers the risk of illness "by a million-fold," Gerba said in an interview.

The main source of disease-causing bacteria in the kitchen is raw meat. In some areas, "almost 100%" of poultry contains organisms such as campylobacter and salmonella that can cause diarrhea or flu-like illness, Gerba said.

Food poisoning makes headlines when cases are traced to restaurants or other public settings, but studies have shown that 50% to 80% of food-borne illness is caused by food prepared at home.

Most people are careful to refrigerate meat and cook it thoroughly, but it's also important to disinfect cutting boards and countertops after they come in contact with raw meat, Gerba said, noting that he uses two cutting boards at home, reserving one for raw meat.

Gerba and his colleagues presented their findings last week in Atlanta at the annual meeting of the American Society of Microbiology.

Dr. Mercola's CommentS:

This was not published in any journal yet, probably because it is too practical. I love this article and am going to start recommending its findings immediately. They will be incorporated into my basic wellness program. Infectious diseases are a huge source of illness.

My general strategy is to build up the immune system so you can tolerate any infection, but it sure makes sense to decrease your exposure by reducing the bacterial count in the kitchen.

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