Use of Household Bleach
Could Help Prevent
Food Poisoning
By Michael Woods
The Toledo Blade
Scripps Howard News Service
Ordinary liquid household laundry bleach has a secret life as a powerful germ killer that, when properly used, could help prevent some of the 33 million cases of food poisoning that occur in the United States each year.
I became aware of this little-known role of liquid chlorine bleach years ago while on the first of several expeditions to the Central American rain forest with archaeologists studying the ancient Maya civilization.
Feeding research teams meant buying fresh fruit and vegetables from local farmers. Soil in the area is poor, and farmers are quick to fertilize crops with human and animal feces. Bacteria and viruses from the waste, of course, got all over the produce, which went straight from field to market with little effective washing.
Go ahead and munch a nice raw carrot, cucumber, or tomato in Central America if you dare. Then count on spending the next few days with nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and other symptoms of Montezuma's Revenge, also known as traveler's diarrhea.
The archaeologists kept their teams healthy, in part, by ordering that all fresh fruit and vegetables be washed in a solution water and liquid chlorine laundry bleach like Clorox. Thorough cooking provided an added measure of safety.
In the United States, of course, it is safer to eat fresh fruits and vegetables after simply rinsing in tap water. Many food poisoning cases occur, instead, from improperly prepared meat, poultry or fish.
One common scenario: The cook prepares raw poultry, meat or fish on a kitchen counter top or cutting board. Counter top or board then are used after a quick swipe with a damp kitchen sponge or dishcloth -- to prepare salad or other food that is eaten raw, or without adequate cooking. Alternatively, the cook uses the same knife or other implements to prepare raw meat or poultry and other foods that will be eaten without further cooking.
Food poisoning microbes from the meat or poultry pass from counter top, cutting board, or implements to the other foods, where they may multiply.
Sometimes, attempts at washing counter tops or cutting boards actually spread disease-causing microbes. Damp dishcloths or sponges may grow a bumper crop of microbes and contaminate food.
In one study completed earlier this year, Dr. Pat Rusin, of the University of Arizona, checked bacteria levels on objects in a group of typical homes.
Dish cloths literally were dirtier from a microbiological standpoint than toilet seats. The typical dishcloth harbored one million times more bacteria than a typical toilet seat.
People assume that hot water and soap or detergent kills microbes on dishcloths, sponges, and food preparation surfaces. In reality, something stronger may be needed.
Rusin recommended the same approach endorsed by the U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and public health authorities: Sanitize kitchen surfaces regularly with the food poisoning preventing secret of the ancient Maya archaeologists, a solution of water and liquid chlorine bleach.
One standard solution for sanitizing hard, nonporous food preparation surfaces consists of one tablespoon of liquid chlorine bleach in one gallon of water. Leave wet for two minutes and allow to air dry. For wood cutting boards and other porous surfaces, use 3 tablespoons per gallon of water. Leave wet for two minutes and rinse.
Rubin recommends soaking kitchen dishcloth in a sink-full of water containing one cup of liquid bleach.
Use the sanitizing solution with care, so that it doesn't get into the eyes or onto clothing. That goes double for the concentrated bleach, which also can cause skin irritation. Follow safety precautions on the bleach container. Don't mix the solution with cleaners containing household ammonia, lye, toilet bowl cleaner, or acid materials like vinegar.