9 Germy Places to Avoid this Winter
The cold temperatures and shorter days of winter continue, and with them, the dangerous cold and flu season. It’s also a perfect time of the year to brush up on tips to keep you and your family safe.
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:
There are microbes all over our homes, but most are entirely benign. There are also many harmful ones, including cold and flu viruses, salmonella, listeria, mold, staph, fecal matter, and E. coli. And no-these microbes are not found primarily in the bathroom. We tend to be the most germophobic about our toilets and clean them regularly, but it’s the kitchen that is home to most of these germs.
Here are the places in your home that are hotspots for germs and how to disinfect them properly:
1. Kitchen sink
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. 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 solution with one 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.
2. Kitchen sponge
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 clean 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! Microwaving those sponges did not affect the bacteria.
To keep germs out of your sponge, wash it down after each use with hot water and dishwashing soap and replace them 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 regularly.
4. Cooking equipment
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, 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.
2. Restaurant menus
Hundreds of diners handle them, and they are 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.
3. Lemon wedges
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.
4. Condiment containers
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 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 it.
In public places
1. Shopping carts
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 thoroughly before eating.
2. 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 pack your tissues. If you’re bringing children along, it’s best to bring your books and toys to keep them occupied.
Here’s wishing you a healthy, happy winter from all of us here at Truity Credit Union!