Saturday, March 10, 2012

Living in a Bacterial World

Invisible bacteria are everywhere. Trying to find their many hiding places is like counting poppy seeds in a bagel factory. And while having bacteria on your skin is a healthy fact of life, the bacteria that fill the world around you aren’t always as well behaved.

In a sense, we have no one to blame but ourselves. Bacteria mostly stay put, until a person like you arrives to move them around. All day long, while we think we’re cooking, cleaning, looking after our kids, or working at the office, we’re also busy transferring bacteria from one place to another. To find the favorite living spaces for bacteria, you simply need to look at the places we touch most.

For example, in a public restroom the amount of bacteria on the muchfeared toilet seat is minimal. It certainly can’t compare to the thriving colonies on the sink taps and door handles. And in many popular restaurants, the bacteria in the ice machine top what you can extract from toilet-bowl water—a fact originally discovered in a 7th-grader’s science project. (The toilet has the advantage of frequent cleaning and fast-running fresh water to rinse it out. The ice machine has the disadvantage of coming into contact
with countless people’s grubby fingers and a much less frequent cleaning schedule.)

Your own home has similar surprises in store. The places you come into contact with when you touch and prepare food—such as kitchen sponges and rags, cutting boards, and countertops—as well as doorknobs and toothbrushes, are the most bacteria-laden. In fact, if an alien being were to arrive in your home, it would have to be excused for using the kitchen sink as a washroom and preparing a cheese plate on the toilet seat. From a microbiologist’s point of view, this arrangement would be safer for everybody.

So with all this bacteria on the loose, what’s a paranoid person to do?

• Sanitize sponges and cutting boards. These are not only hotspots of bacterial life, they’re also the primary vehicles for spreading bacteria around. To sterilize a sponge, you can boil it in hot water for a few minutes, run it through a dishwasher drying cycle, or soak it lightly and then pop it in the microwave. To clean your cutting board, scrub it with a light bleach solution (1 tablespoon of bleach to a quart of water). To be extra safe, use a separate cutting board for meat duties, and replace your cutting board when it becomes heavily scored, because bacteria love to pile into the grooves.

• Treat the sink with caution. Give it a thorough, regular cleaning. And once you clean the sink, make sure you dry it thoroughly. That’s because a moist environment encourages the last, lingering bacteria to reproduce. And whatever you do, don’t eat something you’ve dropped into your sink unless you cook it first.

• Prepare food properly. Proper cleaning is important for foods that you plan to eat raw, like fruits and veggies. To prevent crosscontamination, rinse all fruits and vegetables, even those that you plan to peel (like oranges, cantaloupes, and potatoes). Rinse with ordinary water—soap may leave a residue you shouldn’t ingest, and fancy food-cleaning systems don’t make much of a difference in serious tests. Lastly, don’t wash chicken or raw meat before you cook it. Your oven destroys all the bacteria it contains. Washing the meat simply gives you an opportunity to spread tiny droplets of bacteria-laden water throughout your kitchen.

• Wash your hands properly. With a world of bacteria around you, it’s safe to assume that your hands harbor some unwanted guests. Clean your hands before you handle food and before you sit down to eat. Soap and warm water does the trick. Scalding hot water still won’t be hot enough to kill bacteria, so don’t torture yourself. Antibacterial soap isn’t much help, either. The active germ-killing ingredient, triclosan, works only if you leave the soap on your hands for several minutes before rinsing, which virtually no one does.

Before you panic, remind yourself that bacteria can’t cause any trouble until it breaches your body’s defenses. So that means it’s probably safe to touch virtually anything in the filthiest restroom, as long as you give your hands a thorough washing before you poke a finger in your eye, mouth, nose, or bacon sandwich.

One study found that bachelors have the cleanest kitchens. That’s because they’re less likely to use the kitchen to prepare food, and even less likely to pick up a rag to clean off a countertop (which often simply smears the bacteria around).

Studies show that ordinary soap does a perfectly good job of removing dangerous pathogens from your hands. Antibacterial soap can do the same job, but it has a potential side effect. By rinsing antibacterial chemicals down the drain, you increase the odds that they’ll encounter a colony of bacteria on the way down and cause it to evolve into a more dangerous, resistant strain. If you use antibacterial products, choose the ones that actually have proven benefits—for example, toothpaste. And skip the antibacterial soap, which offers nothing more than a dose of false comfort.

Source of Information : Oreilly - Your Body Missing Manual

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