Do cleaning supplies like sponges carry bacteria?

sponge bacteria
If you’re a cleaning supplies freak like us, you may not want to hear this – but that kitchen sponge you’ve been using to clean your dishes may actually be one of the dirtiest items in your home.

In fact, you may be better off just cutting your veggies on a toilet seat rather than that chopping board you just wiped down. According to a new study, common cleaning supplies like kitchen sponges and dish rags carry around 10 million bacteria per square inch, and are “200,000 dirtier than a toilet seat”.

Sponge Bacteria May Cause Serious Health Conditions

Though much of the bacteria lurking on sponges are thought to be harmless, Hugh Pennington, one of Britain’s leading microbiologists wants consumers to know that dirty cleaning supplies like sponges can actually be dangerous.

A bacterium called campylobacter remains a big concern for the Health Protection agency. Campylobacter, which naturally occurs from poultry, can result in Guillain-Barre syndrome.

Guillain-Barre syndrome, a potentially deadly muscle disorder, can cause paralysis, severe pain, difficulty breathing and rapid heartbeat. Don’t worry too much though – Guillain-Barre syndrome is rare, at only 1-2 cases per 100,000 people annually and the majority of those affected recover.

If you don’t have access to a dishwasher and sponges are your only option – just remember to sanitize them on a regular basis.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Should I use antibacterial foaming hand soap?

hand soap
These days, it seems like you can’t even wash your hands without coming across antibacterial foaming hand soap. And while most of us can probably agree that regular hand washing is a crucial component to good health, there seems to be a divide when it comes to antibacterial.

It’s just soap…what’s the big deal?

There are several issues of concern when it comes to antibacterial soap – and most of them are related to its main active ingredient triclosan. Triclosan, which is found in nearly 75% of antibacterial hand soaps, has been widely scrutinized in the last decade.

Why researchers and consumers are concerned about triclosan:

  • Triclosan needs to be left on the surface of the skin for at least two minutes to be effective. Most people aren’t that patient.
  • Some researchers believe that bacteria could eventually develop a resistance to bactericidal agents like triclosan over time.
  • Being exposed to some bacteria is actually beneficial to your health. The normal population of bacteria living in our body helps fend off dangerous bacteria.
  • Many diseases are viral in nature, which means they can’t be prevented using antibacterial soap anyway

So when should you be using antibacterial foaming hand soap?

A clean environment and a clean body are important, but not every inch of every surface needs to be sterile in order to be safe. On a daily basis, antibacterial soap may a little much for the average person.

However, there are definitely instances where antibacterial foaming hand soap is appropriate, such as:

  • In health-care settings where there’s a risk of transferring bacteria from patient to patient.
  • In restaurant settings where someone is handling raw meat or fish.

The takeaway

Unless you work in a healthcare or restaurant setting, you may want to stick to regular soap and water. However, if antibacterial foaming hand soap is your only option, it’s certainly safe to use – but probably a little overkill on a daily basis.

Are Restaurant Plates Making You Sick?

bacteria-restaurant-platesPut that burger down.

When eating at your favorite restaurant, the last you thing you want to think about is their commercial cleaning habits – but maybe you should. New research suggests that restaurant tableware may be an overlooked stomach flu hotspot.

“We know that when public food establishments follow the cleaning protocols, they do a very good job at getting rid of bacteria,” said Melvin Pascall, associate professor, Department of Food Science and Technology at Ohio State. “Now we can see that the protocols are less effective at removing and killing viruses — and this may help explain why there are still so many illnesses caused by cross-contaminated food.”

Stomach Flu Survives Commercial Cleaning Dishwashers

To test their theory, the research team at Ohio State infused two difficult to clean foods – cream cheese and reduced fat milk – with murine norovirus (stomach flu), E. coli K-12 or Listeria innocua. The researchers then applied the infected food to ceramic plates, glassware and stainless steel utensils. The tableware was then washed, using either traditional hand washing or a commercial dishwasher.

And the results?

The team found that both the commercial cleaning dishwashers and manual hand washing reduced E. coli K-12 and Listeria innocua to safety standards. However – neither method was able to significantly reduce the presence of murine norovirus.

In general, commercial dishwashers were more effective at eliminating both the presence of bacteria and viruses (no surprise there), but they’re still not enough. Norovirus is highly contagious – even just a few particles are enough to infect an unsuspecting diner.

“Proper sanitation and handling remain the single biggest factor that can prevent cross-contamination of food and dishware at food service establishments, said Pascall. ”However, it appears that we need to identify better agents or methods to significantly reduce the presence of norovirus and work to update the protocols.”

Noroviruses can lead to severe diarrhea and vomiting, and remain a major cause of gastroenteritis in hospitals, cruise ships and other “closed communities” where the virus can quickly spread.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

World Toliet Day: Sanitation Matters

Image Source: The Christian Science Monitor

World Toilet Day came and went a few weeks ago, unnoticed by many. Created back in 2001 to raise global awareness of the struggle billions face every day without access to clean sanitation – World Toilet Day has still failed to gain the same level of public interest achieved by other international awareness events (such as World Water Day on March 22nd).

Why World Toilet Day?

Water contamination is one of the fastest growing threats to life as we know it worldwide – and a significant amount of contamination is directly related to human sewage.

According to the World Toilet Organization, “Over a billion of the 6 billion people in the world are served by sewerage systems but much of this sewerage is discharged into rivers, lakes and the sea with little or no treatment.”

  • Roughly 2.5 billion people do not have access to a toilet worldwide
  • Over a billion people are still defecating in the open
  • Around 1.5 million deaths are cause by diarrhea each year
  • Diarrhea remains the second leading cause for children under five

World Toilet Day is an opportunity to shed some light the world’s current sewage crisis and to look toward a solution that can facilitate transformative change.

How you can help…

Whether you have professional expertise in a particular field, or a just a desire to contribute, you can play an integral role in advocating for and on behalf of the 2.5 billion people who lack safe access to a toilet.

Ways to get involved:

  • Follow World Toilet Day on Twitter and Facebook
  • Sign the Keep Your Promises petition
  • Host or plan an event your area next year
  • Contribute press releases to local media
  • Ask local sports or cultural events to promote sanitation messages
  • Spread the word anyway you can!

Are Janitors More Likely to Get the Flu?

Seasonal influenza is a contagious respiratory illness that affects approximately 5-20% of U.S. residents each year.

But who’s the most likely to get the flu?

According to a recent study of 8,700 Washington State workers conducted by the scientific journal PLOS ONE, janitors are the most likely to exhibit flu-like symptoms.

Though it might seem like teachers, healthcare workers and other professionals that work one-on-one with flu-stricken adults and children would be more prone to the bug – behind the scenes workers are actually more susceptible.

According to co-author Naomi Anderson – an epidemiologist with the State Department of Labor and Industries – the main “reason janitors are more prone to the flu is that they clean areas and objects that often harbor bacteria.”

“They’re cleaning up after us, disinfecting surfaces and touching things that are handled a lot like door knobs and handling materials and other things that could be contaminated,” Anderson went on to say.

So what’s the take away from this?

Perhaps custodial workers aren’t receiving the essential equipment and training necessary to protect them from contracting the flu. More research is certainly needed establish a cause and to find an appropriate solution.

Image Credit: Flickr

Sick Office Workers Still Show Up for Work, According to New Flu Season Survey

sick office workerIn an average year, the flu contributes to an estimated 70 million missed days of work – which calculates into roughly $10 billion in lost office productivity.

Flu season is just about to arrive, which means a multitude of employee sick days are just around the corner – or are they?

According to a new flu season survey conducted by Staples, almost 80 percent of office workers show up for work, even when they know they’re sick. This number is up 20 percent over the past year. And for those who elect to stay home, nearly two-thirds return to the office when they’re still contagious.

When asked about their office habits, the survey also demonstrated that office workers continue to make preventable errors that fuel the spread of office germs:

  • 51 percent of employees surveyed clean their desk once per week or less. Germs can live on surfaces for up three days – especially on keyboards (traditionally one of the dirtiest workspace areas).
  • 25 percent of those surveyed believed that door handles were the least sanitary place in the office, when it’s actually the break room sink, followed by the office microwave.
  • 65 percent of survey participants believed that individuals sick with the flu are contagious for a total of 1-3 days, when in actuality the flu virus is contagious at least a day prior to symptoms and for an additional 5-7 days after becoming sick.

So why are employees going to work when they’re still sick? They’re concerned about completing unfinished work.

Image Credit: Flickr

Commercial Cleaning Tips: Five Ways to Prevent the Flu in Your Workplace

Between 5 and 20 percent of Americans will contract the flu this year according to the U.S. Department of Health. Minimize the spread of disease and protect your employees by following some of our commercial cleaning tips below:

Promote employee hand washing

Habitual hand washing is the single most effective way to prevent the spread of illness among employees. Make hand washing easier for your employees by providing automatic hand dryers and bulk foaming hand soap.

Disinfect high touch areas

Areas of your office where that receive a lot of touch (keyboards, door handles, phones), should be disinfected on a regular basis.

Deep restroom cleaning

If you saw our last post on clean restroom tips, you already know that restroom hygiene is essential to your company’s reputation. It’s also essential to employee health. Your restrooms should receive extra care during flu season.

Use entrance mats

Entrance mats are an effective way to trap harmful germs from entering your workplace, but soiled mats can also be a breeding ground for harmful microbes and bacteria. Make sure to keep them clean throughout the day.

Keep your floors tidy

A dirty floor can contain more than two million bacteria per square inch. To reduce bacteria throughout your workplace, use tools specifically designed to reduce and prevent cross contamination.

Foaming Hand Soap, Antimicrobial Surfaces and Other Tips for Improving the Hygiene of Your Restroom

foaming hand soapNo one likes a dirty restroom. In fact, a recent study found that 94 percent of adults would actually avoid a business in the future if they encountered an unkempt public restroom. The state of your restroom contributes to your reputation – so it’s time to clean up! Improve your restroom hygiene with the tips below:

Antimicrobial surfaces – Many hand dryer manufacturers already specialize in antimicrobial technology, which can fend off the build-up of harmful bacteria such as MRSA and E. coli. You can expand the use of antimicrobial to your wall paint, flooring, counter-tops and even your toilets.

Automatic soap dispensers – Though it may not actually be unhygienic, a soap mess on your counter top doesn’t look very clean. Swap out your liquid dispensers for drip-free foaming hand soap dispensers and avoid a pool of soap on your counter-tops.

Automatic hand dryers – Similar to liquid soap dispensers, a pile of used paper towels can really hinder the appearance of your restroom and actually discourage hand washing. Automatic hand dryers will make your restroom appear tidy and the’lly also reduce your purchasing needs for bulk janitorial supplies.

Pay attention to your restroom design – Though most people don’t consider the design of a public restroom, it can make a huge difference in functionality. There are certain standards such as height and distance that should be followed when designing your bathroom. For example:

  • Countertops should be 34” high
  • Urinals should be 17” high
  • Toilet seats should be 17-19” high.

Seek the consult of a professional to make sure your restroom follows these essential guidelines.

Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons

Germ Hotspots Exposed

Germ Hotspots

Just because something looks clean, doesn’t mean it is. Be cautious around the germ hotspots below and you may be able to avoid that extra sick day this winter.

Restaurant Menus

The next time you reach for that menu, you may want to consider the hundreds or thousands of people who have handled it before you. What are the chances your menu underwent a thorough sanitizing before your server plopped it down on your table? Probably slim to none. You should probably wash your hands before picking up that tasty burger.

Lime and Lemon Wedges

After ordering 21 drinks at various restaurants, researchers from the Journal of Environmental Health found 25 different microorganisms on the accompanying limes and lemons – including E. coli. Perhaps it would be best to skip the lemon and lime next time you find yourself ordering a vodka soda.

Restroom Door Knobs and Handles

Well this one shouldn’t be too much of a shocker. If you saw our last post on hand washing habits, you’ve realized that most Americans aren’t very diligent when it comes washing their hands post restroom. Reduce your chances of contamination by flushing with your foot and opening the door handle with a paper towel.

Grocery Carts

With flu and cold season just around the corner, more and more grocery stores are making disinfecting wipes available for customers to give their cart or basket a quick wipe down. According to the Journal of Medical Virology – flu and cold viruses can survive up to 18 hours on hard surfaces. As you can probably imagine, grocery carts are a breeding ground for bacteria. Take advantage of these free wipes or bring your own.

Free Food Samples

Though tempting, free mixed nuts at the bar are NEVER a good idea. Hand-to-food contact is one of the most common ways to spread foodborne illness. Even if you carry a bottle of hand sanitizer in your purse, think about all of the people who can’t even bother to wash their hands. The next time you’re offered a communal bowel of tasty treats, just say pass.

Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons

Winter Safety Tips for Cleaning Professionals

Winter CleaningWinter is just around the corner, which means we’re in for some harsh weather, below freezing temperatures and heavy snowstorms. If you’re a cleaning professional, it’s time to start padding your current safety practices with some extra precaution.

Bulk cleaning supplies aren’t enough to keep everyone safe during the long winter months. Nearly eight million emergency room visits each year are the result of an accidental slip or fall – making prevention a top concern for most cleaning professionals.

  • Take extra care with building entryways. These high traffic areas should always be uncluttered and free of debris.
  • Always have ice melt on hand in advance of an upcoming winter storm.
  • The winter months are much darker, which calls for additional lighting. Ensure all entryways are well lit throughout the day, instead of just turning them on during night time hours.
  • Keep your eye out for ice build-up around outdoor water sources like gutters and downspouts. Ice patches are common in these regions.
  • Make sure you have a matt system in place for the winter months to keep walkways throughout your building clean and dry.
Stay tuned for more cleaning tips from the National Purity Blog this winter.

Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons