Your supermarket 'bag for life' can give you food poisoning…so put it in your washing machine to kill the bugs!
00:47 GMT, 10 April 2012
Many of us fuss over a clean loo and kitchen sink, but what about the other household items we use every day
Experts reveal the neglected areas you should be spring cleaning to MATTHEW BARBOUR…
BAGS FOR LIFE
The contamination in your supermarket 'bag for life' happens when food, such as juices from raw meat, leaks onto the fabric or plastic
Saving the environment comes with its own risks, according to a 2010 study by the University of Arizona, which tested 84 reusable shopping bags collected from shoppers and found that just over half were contaminated with potentially harmful bacteria.
Twelve per cent of the bags contained E. coli, indicating possible faecal matter and more dangerous pathogens.
The study also found 97 per cent of those interviewed never washed their bags.
The contamination happens when food, such as juices from raw meat, leaks onto the fabric or plastic, says study co-author and environmental microbiologist Professor Charles Gerba.
ADVICE: Clearly mark and keep one bag designated for meats, and machine-wash all bags fortnightly. Replace them every six months.
They may protect you against prickly plants and shrubs, but when did you last wash your gardening gloves
Dr Ron Cutler, deputy director of biomedical sciences at Queen Mary, University of London, says bacteria, viruses and spores found in soil could be easily transferred from your hands to your eyes or mouth after wearing unclean gloves.
‘Gardening gloves provide a false sense of security — debris can still fall in the top, and when removing them your hands will touch the outside, so wash your hands as thoroughly as if you hadn’t used gloves at all,’ says Dr Cutler.
ADVICE: Dispose of any gloves the moment any cuts or holes appear, and wash and properly dry them fortnightly using an antibacterial wash rather than soap or hot water, which can dry them out and cause cracks.
FRUIT BOWLS AND VEGETABLE BAGS
Even before fruit or vegetables visibly rot and become slimey, they can harbour bugs called pseudomonas, which develop as they over-ripen and can cause severe gastrointestinal upsets and infections, says Dr Cutler.
‘They also create an environment in which other bacteria such as E.coli, salmonella and listeria can thrive. A fruit bowl or veg bag is not chilled, so bacteria can multiply rapidly.’
The E.coli cucumber outbreak last summer, which killed 26 in Europe and left thousands seriously ill, is proof of the risks fruit and veg can pose, he says.
ADVICE: Machine-wash bags at 60c. Clean fruit bowls with antibacterial solutions once a week.
Wash reusable sports-type bottles in boiling water once a week
A recent study from Calgary University reported harmful levels of bacteria in water drunk from 75 plastic bottles in a primary school, which were refilled without proper cleaning.
Over 30 per cent of the water samples had significant levels of faecal bacteria, probably due to improper hand-washing.
Dr Julian Hiscox, senior lecturer in virology at Leeds University, says: ‘If you leave the bottle at room temperature all day long — on your desk or in your gym bag, for instance — you’re providing an ideal environment for any existing bacteria to multiply.’
ADVICE: Throw away disposable bottles every week. Wash reusable sports-type bottles in boiling water once a week.
SPONGES & TAPS
After just a week of washing up, a sponge can harbour more than a million bacteria, according to Professor Gerba.
‘Sponges are one of the key pathways for bacteria to reach our skin, including E.coli and staphylococcus from contact with raw meat or faecal contamination,’ he says.
University of Florida scientists say they’ve found a near-foolproof method for sanitising any sponge: soak it with water, then microwave on high for two minutes. Tests showed that this killed 99 per cent of bacteria.
Meanwhile, a 2009 study by the Hygiene Council found a kitchen tap carries more harmful bugs than a toilet handle.
Fourteen per cent of taps had relatively high rates of the potentially deadly E.coli bug, compared with just 6 per cent of toilet handles.
ADVICE: Disinfect sponges and kitchen cloths daily in a microwave or using antibacterial wash. Wipe down the entire sink and taps at the end of each day.
Staphylococcus bacteria was detected on the door, steering wheel and under the seats
A steering wheel typically harbours nine times more germs than a public toilet seat, according to research, which also showed 42 per cent of motorists regularly eat while driving.
The study found that bacillus cereus — a bug that can cause food poisoning and is found in rice, pasta, potatoes and pies — was the most common, along with arthrobacter, found in soil and human skin.
Staphylococcus bacteria, which can lead to skin infections such as impetigo and food poisoning, was detected on the door, steering wheel and under the seats.
‘A car is the perfect place for germs to breed, especially if you eat in it and leave litter or uneaten food,’ says Dr Cutler.
ADVICE: Vacuum and clean the car with antibacterial wipes once a month, and empty any food wrappers or other litter immediately after each journey.
Researchers at Otago University in New Zealand found more than half of all soft toys they tested contained potentially harmful levels of house dust mites, which can aggravate hay fever, eczema or asthma.
Regularly held close to the mouth while a child is sleeping, they can increase the risk of mite-related asthma.
ADVICE: ‘My advice for parents is to tumble dry teddies for one hour or freeze the soft toy overnight, and then wash it in a cold wash to remove any allergens,’ says Dr Steve Turner, a consultant paediatrician specialising in allergies at the University of Dundee.
A study in the journal Applied And Environmental Microbiology found that bath and toilet mats and non-slip shower mats breed potential pathogens such as infection-causing sphingomonas and methylobacterium, which can cause respiratory illness carried by steam particles.
Immerse yourself in a bath that has a mouldy shower mat in it and any offending bugs are free to float into any open cuts or grazes, leading to infection, says study author, Professor Norman Pace at the University of Colorado.
Dr Cutler adds there’s ‘a very real risk’ of athlete’s foot or verrucas from standing on mouldy bath or toilet mats in the bathroom.
ADVICE: Rinse and hang mats to dry after each use, cover with antibacterial spray and wash weekly at 60c.
Shoe racks are obviously preferable to treading everything from food matter to animal faeces into the carpet, Dr Cutler says, but racks and tidies pose the extra risk of cross-contamination.
So even if you haven’t got any dangerous pathogens on your shoes, they can be picked up when your hand touches the rack or the soles of any other shoes that have subsequently touched that part of the rack.
‘Taxoplasma parasites from cat and dog faeces can survive for days. If they get on to a child’s hand and into their mouth, they can cause blindness.’
ADVICE: Scrub shoe racks with antibacterial wash weekly, remove debris from shoes and wash your hands thoroughly after removing your shoes.