- 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
- 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
- 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.