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What You Don’t Know About Germs Could Be Making You Sick

Brush up on your personal hygiene, housekeeping strategies and food handling skills with our guide to beating the spread of bugs.

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Germ facts - wash your handsPhoto: Shutterstock

Water temperature doesn’t matter to germs

Scrubbing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds is your simplest defence against harmful germs. But no need to bother with the hot faucet—warm water is no more effective than cold in removing bacteria from your hands.

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Germ facts - use hand sanitizerPhoto: Shutterstock

Hand sanitizer is the next best thing to washing

If water and soap aren’t available, use alcohol-based sanitizer. Jason Tetro, a Toronto-based microbiologist and the author of The Germ Code, says as long as the product contains 62 to 70 per cent alcohol, it will kill most of the germs on your skin.

Make sure you avoid these common hand washing mistakes, too.

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How to improve gut health - healthy gutPhoto: Shutterstock

Some germs are worth nurturing

Tetro suggests consuming prebiotic-rich foods like bananas and asparagus. Unlike probiotics-live bacteria that improve digestion-prebiotics help nourish the good bacteria already present in your gut.

Check out more easy ways to boost your gut health.

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Organized refrigeratorAndrey Popov/Shutterstock

It pays to keep your fridge organized

Harmful bacteria, such as salmonella, can be spread when ready-to-eat foods, like washed fruits and veggies, come into contact with potentially hazardous ones, like raw meats and their juices. Toronto Public Health suggests organizing your fridge with raw meats at the bottom, unwashed produce in the middle and ready-to-eat foods at the top in order to avoid cross-contamination.

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Germ facts - raw chickenPhoto: Shutterstock

Don’t wash your chicken before cooking

If you rinse raw poultry, the bacteria can be carried by the water. To avoid food-borne illnesses during prep, use a separate cutting board and utensils for uncooked poultry, says Chong.

Find out which foods you should never reheat in the microwave.

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germ facts - public washroomPhoto: Shutterstock

Reach for paper towels in public restrooms

They may be eco-friendly, but hand dryers have one major drawback-they blast germs everywhere. In a 2014 University of Leeds study in England, microbiologists found that the concentration of airborne bacteria around jet air dispensers was 27 times higher than that found near paper towel dispensers.

This is the most hygienic way to dry your hands.

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Germ facts - washroom air dryerPhoto: Shutterstock

Toilets aren’t the most dangerous thing in public bathroom

The toilets in public washrooms aren’t necessarily where you’ll find the most germs. “The door handle and sink basin are more dangerous than the toilet itself,” says Tetro. He suggests using paper towel when opening bathroom doors.

Don’t miss these tips for using a public washroom during COVID-19.

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Germ facts - toothbrushes in bathroomPhoto: Shutterstock

Germs love toothbrushes

If you can’t remember when you last changed your toothbrush, it’s time to toss it. An open toilet bowl can allow a biofilm of fecal coliforms to grow on your brush, says Tetro. Keep your lid down and rinse your toothbrush with hot water for five seconds before use.

Here’s exactly how often you should be replacing your toothbrush.

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Germ facts - young man using cell phonePhoto: Shutterstock

Germs love cellphones, too

Our cellphones carry more than just data. In 2011, British researchers tested 390 phones and discovered one in six devices had fecal traces on their surfaces. Tetro suggests wiping phones down with a disinfecting cloth daily to minimize your risk of infection.

Your phone is just one of 12 things you should be cleaning after returning from the outside world.

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Germ facts - disinfecting wipes to sanitize doorhandlePhoto: Shutterstock

Make sure you use disinfecting wipes properly

A 2015 study by Cardiff University in Wales revealed that wipes can spread superbugs like MRSA and C. difficile. Use one sheet per surface to avoid moving germs around.

Here are more mistakes everyone makes with antibacterial wipes.

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Germ facts - kitchen sponge disinfectPhoto: Shutterstock

Zap away bacteria

A 2006 study in the Journal of Environmental Health found that microwaving a kitchen sponge for one to two minutes can reduce the presence of germs by more than 99 per cent.

Here’s how to clean the dirtiest items in your home.

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12. Always take off your shoes.Photo: Shutterstock

Always take off your shoes

Researchers at the University of Arizona found that there are, on average, 421,000 different bacteria on our shoes. Leave your footwear at the door to avoid dragging the organisms through your home.

Find out nine surprising things that are covered in fecal matter.

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Germ facts - washing machine on hotPhoto: Shutterstock

Wash underwear in hot water

“A washer load of underwear contains one million E. coli bacteria,” says microbiologist Charles Gerba. His research team discovered that germs are more likely to survive cold-water washes and be transferred between clothing items. Gerba recommends washing clothes with hot water (60 C or warmer) and bleach to kill bacteria.

Next, find out the everyday items you’re not washing nearly enough.

Originally Published in Reader's Digest Canada