BY: EVELINE GAN
Picture this. After preparing the ingredients for your chicken soup, you use a damp cloth to clean the kitchen counter. As the soup starts boiling over, you use the same cloth to wipe off excess soup around the pot and stove.
Then, using the very same cloth again, you give the dining table a good wipe before serving dinner.
For most people, the scenario described above is a familiar one.
Chances are, in the process of “cleaning up”, you would have unwittingly spread all sorts of scary-sounding bacteria – E coli, campylobacter, listeria, salmonella and staphylococcus – around your home.
The latest results of the Dettol Bacterial Survival Study undertaken by the Global Hygiene Council in UK reveal that the seemingly innocuous kitchen cloth is one of the main culprits harbouring infection-causing bacteria.
The study tested the length of time five different types of bacteria survived on hygiene hotspots including kitchen surfaces and cloths in a typical household.
All bacteria tested survived on the stainless steel and plastic surfaces for at least three hours, with staphylococcus surviving on plastic and stainless steel surfaces for up to 48 hours.
The latter can cause food poisoning, as well as illnesses such as skin and wound infections, urinary tract infections and even pneumonia.
On average, bacteria survived two to three times longer on damp cloths than on dry ones.
Associate Professor Paul Anantharajah Tambyah, a member of the Asian Hygiene Council who reviewed the study, told TODAY that this route of cross contamination could possibly be the culprit of recent local food poisoning incidents in schools.
A senior consultant at the University Medical Cluster of the National University Health System of Singapore’s department of medicine, Assoc Prof Tambyah said: “The Bacterial Survival Study demonstrates that bacteria can survive for extended periods on household surfaces and can be easily transferred to cloths.
If not handled carefully, there is the potential for damp kitchen cloths to become a reservoir for germs, spreading them all around the kitchen.”
The experts stressed the importance of disinfection.
Professor John Oxford, Chairman of the Global Hygiene Council, said that simply wiping surfaces and washing kitchen cloths with tap water are insufficient to kill harmful bacteria. A professor of virology at Barts and The London School of Dentistry, Prof Oxford was in town last month to present the survey findings.
While ordinary soap and water is adequate, Prof Oxford said antibacterial products were more effective at killing and removing harmful bacteria from common household surfaces.
To reduce the risk of cross-contamination, he suggested disinfecting kitchen cloths at least once a day by boiling for thirty minutes.
“Simply washing it in cold water is not good enough. After washing, you also have to dry the cloth thoroughly as bacteria thrive on moisture,” he said.
Citing the recent E coli scare in Europe, Prof Oxford said people need to step up on their hygiene responsibility.
“Maintaining good hygiene practices is a dual responsibility towards yourself and others so that we do not allow infectious outbreaks to get a grip on society,” he said.
What is your hygiene personality?
The survey also found that those with good personal hygiene scores reported lower levels of colds and diarrhoea. Good manners were also protective of infectious health – the odds of good infectious health were almost two and a half times higher among those who reported embarrassment at sneezing on others.
The Global Hygiene Behaviour Study survey was based on about 12,000 people from 12 countries.