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Germ warfare in your home

If you're a regular reader of "Health" magazine, you already know what I'm about to say. But it wouldn't hurt to hear it again. And with Thanksgiving upon us, a little review of kitchen cleanliness (make that all-over-the-house cleanliness) is not such a bad idea. Advance warning — this topic is somewhat unsettling.

"Germs lurk where you least expect them," according to the recent issue of Health magazine. As illustration, I just transferred a load of wet laundry from the washer to the dryer. The cycle finished about an hour ago, but I delayed in making the transfer. I know better. I know those clothes should move the minute the washer stops churning and spinning. That's especially important if I'm washing a load of underwear. (A family's underwear should be washed apart from other laundered items, by the way.) There's "about a gram of feces in every dirty piece of underwear." The potential for tiny pathogens to spread throughout your load of laundry is substantial.

Other reminders include watching your water temperature. Opt for warm/hot. Your wash water should be 150 degrees — check it using a candy thermometer. And wash those white undies with bleach — use the real thing, not the color-safe version, it has notably less protective "punch."

Other places where germs linger longer include the bottom of your purse, your telephone and the computer keyboard at home or at the office. That would be the same computer keyboard you've been pecking away at for more than two years, the one you have hardly ever wiped down.

One especially big problem is the television's remote control. That's particularly true in hotel rooms — some planning-ahead-people carry a zip lock bag with them when they travel and pop in the remote before they even think about changing a channel.

Here's a big one. Don't forget the bacteria-friendly flush handles on toilets. The toilets in your home or in a public rest room can become their own virtual hotel for nasty disease-causing germs. Let disinfectant and germicidal wipes become your new best friend; carry them everywhere.

I started this column by saying I was going to prepare you for a germ-free kitchen in which to do your Thanksgiving preparations. This is a challenge. The truth is (direct quotes from Health magazine again) "your kitchen sink is dirtier than most bathrooms."

There are "more than 500,000 bacteria per square inch in the drain alone." The kitchen sponge and those little green scrubbers are particularly notorious. Sanitize those items regularly by running them through the dishwasher. And wash your sink area down at least once a week with one tablespoon of bleach to one quart of water — pour any remaining solution (after you've done a complete scrub down) into the drain. You'll feel better afterward — guaranteed.

I work for Oregon State University Extension Service and we have a whole package of materials on germs and kitchen/household cleanliness. Check out http://extension.oregonstate.edu/catalog.

I'm quoting Health magazine's Frances-Largeman Roth when I say "the fight is in your hands." Wash them regularly by the way. And you've heard this from me before: 15-20 seconds, warm water, soap, lots of friction.

Sharon Johnson is an associate professor in health and human services at Oregon State University and on the faculty of the OSU Extension. E-mail her at s.johnson@oregonstate.edu or call 776-7371, Ext. 210.