BY PMA RASHEED
The Gulf Today, 29 Aug 2009
Kitchens are dirtier than bathrooms when it comes to bacterial contamination. And the cleaning cloth used in the kitchen might be the dirtiest item in a home, reveals an international hygiene study.
Giving an insight into cleaning behaviours globally, the results of the study titled 'Hygiene in the Home Study 2009', which was carried out on international, regional and local levels, had been released at the Hygiene Council conference recently held in Cairo.
The study was carried out by the international Hygiene Council in eight countries including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Australia, Germany, India, Malaysia, South Africa, the UK and the US.
According to the study, 86 per cent of the kitchen clothes harbour worse levels of bacteria, and it's not a surprise that only 25 per cent of householders are aware of the fact that the kitchen clothes are having such dangerous level of bacteria.
"The kitchen tap is the second dirtiest item in a home. About 52 per cent, more than half, of the tested taps were unsatisfactory and only eight per cent of homeowners knew the truth," exposes the study.
Fifty-two per cent of the people who were questioned as part of the study thought the most contaminated item in the home would be the toilet flush handle.
In fact, the kitchen taps are twice, 13 per cent, more likely to be the home of E. coli than the toilet flushes that have six per cent only.
A majority of people often ignore the kitchen cloth when it comes to cleaning. They simply rinse it and wash it with liquid rather than disinfecting it.
Meanwhile, the toilet is generally considered as an important area to be cleaned up and that appears to be relatively clean. People are willing to change though.
A significant 89 per cent of the study participants were ready to change their cleaning habits for the better. However, 15 per cent of the participants failed the hygiene test.
John Oxford, Chairman of the Hygiene Council and Professor of Virology at Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry, told The Gulf Today that the hygiene study highlights significant gaps in the public's hygiene knowledge and these really need to be addressed.
"The importance of cleaning key hygiene hotspots in the home is paramount, particularly at a time when we're all concerned about the spread of infectious diseases such as swine flu. Practicing good hygiene is something we can all do to break the chain of infection and protect ourselves and our families."
Bacteria and Viruses
Dr Oxford explained that the clean look of things doesn't mean it is hygienically clean, bacteria and viruses cannot be seen by the naked eye.
Appearances can be deceiving and this was borne out by the study with 33 per cent of visibly clean kitchen cloths found to be dirty in microbiological terms. A further five per cent of clothes actually appeared to be relatively new yet failed the tests. In the cases of kitchen taps, 21 per cent also appeared clean, yet failed the tests.
"The motivation for people to clean their home is sometimes challenged by the view that too much cleaning is bad for your immune system and contributes to an increase in allergic diseases," he added.
The Hygiene Council concluded that there is no scientific data to support this theory, commonly known as the hygiene hypothesis. While the organisation recognised that some exposure to microbes is an important step in the process of natural immunisation, in the sense that exposure to harmful pathogens can cause disease, but it's unnecessary and preventable.
An International consumer survey conducted by the Hygiene Council revealed that removal of germs from the home is often not the primary reason for cleaning with over a quarter of people, 27 per cent, only doing so to make their home 'look' clean and 'smell' nice.
"Participants in the Home Study 2009 of the Hygiene Council were also asked about the hygiene hypothesis. While support for the theory appears to vary significantly from country to country, overall a reassuring 43 per cent do not believe in the notion at all, while 24 per cent thought there might be some truth in it, but eight per cent of the participants were not sure. Only 25 per cent of them firmly believed in it," pointed out John Oxford.
He noted that it's important to be practical and pay attention to areas that represent the greatest risk of infection. Handwashing at key times, appropriate surface disinfection of hand and food contact sites and proper laundry sanitation are where efforts should be focused. Good hygiene advice has even more relevance now in light of the current swine flu outbreak.
Children at risk
According to Prof Oxford, the study showed that 10 per cent of highchairs (places where children eat) are heavily contaminated with bacteria, as toilet flushes, and five per cent of them are dangerously contaminated with E. coli, which is especially worrying as this poses a serious food safety risk.
"Just eight per cent identified the highchair as a primary area of contamination in the home. Over three quarters of highchairs were found to be satisfactory, most likely due to the fact that 84 per cent of respondents reported cleaning the highchair at least daily or every time it was used. Disturbingly though, eight per cent of householders said they never cleaned the highchair at all," he said.
Cold and flu protection
"Understanding of the importance of hand-washing in cold and flu prevention is relatively high among the survey respondents. Nearly half, about 45 per cent of them think 'washing hands regularly' is the most effective way to avoid catching a cold or flu, whilst more than 22 per cent of the respondents think 'covering your nose and mouth when someone else sneezes' is the safe way and 10 per cent of them believe surface disinfection provide the best solutions," added Professor Oxford.