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How Clean Is Clean Enough?

We live in a fairly sanitized world with all sorts of anti-bacterial products available to consumers. In fact, some medical researchers have questioned whether we might be a little too clean. Antibacterial products are linked by some researchers to the development of “superbugs” resistant to antibiotics. The products kill the normal bacteria in our environment, which allows the mutated bacteria a chance to survive.

About 20 years ago, the British Medical Journal published an article by D. P. Strachen discussing a “hygiene hypothesis.” According to the theory, exposure to bacteria and viruses early in life may strengthen your immune system and make you less likely to develop asthma and allergies in childhood and into adulthood.

Strachen noted a link between the increase in allergies and the increased use of antibiotics, among other things.

According to other researchers, children who spend their early years in day care may be less likely to develop asthma later in life. Kids with more siblings and pets in their households also tend to have a stronger immune system because they are exposed to more germs.

On the other hand, exposure to bacteria and viruses can make us very sick, so we need to take some precautions. We somehow need to strike a balance between “super clean” and “clean enough.” This is where common sense needs to enter the picture.

Enjoy digging in the dirt and harvesting some garden-fresh produce this summer.

However, since food can be a vehicle that transfers bacteria and viruses to people, here’s some kitchen food safety reminders:

Be sure to wash your hands frequently when preparing food, especially after handling raw meat. Just use regular soap. Antibacterial soap is not more effective and could pose issues in the long run.

Rinse fresh fruits and vegetables with cool, running water, even the ones with skins you don’t plan to eat.

Be sure to wash your cutting boards, knives and other utensils with hot, soapy water after use, followed by a hot-water rinse. Many food safety experts recommend using a mild bleach solution (1 tbsp. chlorine bleach per gallon of water) to sanitize cutting boards. Let them soak a couple of minutes in the solution and then air-dry.

Cook meat to a safe internal temperature, but don’t overcook meat to the point of quality loss. Use a food thermometer to avoid overcooking as well as under-cooking.

– Julie Garden-Robinson, PhD, L. R. D., is a North Dakota State

University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and associate professor in the department of health, nutrition and exercise sciences.

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Julie Garden-Robinson is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and professor in the department of health, nutrition and exercise sciences.

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