Women’s Handbags May Be Dirtier Than Average Public Toilet

purse-bacteriaWomen’s handbags are a lot dirtier than you might think.

In fact, a new study has revealed that a whopping one in five handbags contain more germs than the average public toilet.

Not only are these findings a little (okay, a lot) gross…they’re potentially dangerous. According to UK study researchers at the Initial Washroom Hygiene, women’s handbags actually contain enough bacteria to be considered a public health risk.

“Handbags come into regular contact with our hands and a variety of surfaces, so the risk of transferring different germs onto them is very high – especially as bags are rarely cleaned,” said Peter Barratt, technical manager at Initial Hygiene.

The Biggest Offenders

According to the results, leather handbags contain the highest levels of harmful bacteria. Their soft, spongy exterior creates the perfect environment for germs to breed.

Handbag interiors also contained high levels of bacteria. Hand cream, lipstick and mascara, in particular, were found to harbor the most bacteria.

Preventing the Spread of Harmful Bacteria

Minimizing the spread of harmful bacteria is easier than you think. If you carry a handbag, make sure to clean it regularly with disinfecting wipes. The same goes for interior objects that you use on a regular basis (especially your makeup).

Proper hand washing with foaming hand soap is also essential — especially after touching the inside or outside of your handbag.

“Once these germs get on the bags, they can easily be transferred via hands onto other surfaces. Regular hand sanitization is essential to prevent the presence of bacteria in the first place and thorough cleaning of bags is recommended to prevent the build-up of contamination,” Barratt said.

Image Credit: Flickr

Hidden Dangers Associated With Triclosan

hand soapAs friends and family members suffer with cold and flu-like symptoms this spring, you might be tempted to reach for an extra handful of antibacterial soap.

But some scientists are growing increasingly concerned that a common antibacterial ingredient, known as triclosan, may actually do more harm than good for consumers.

So, Is Triclosan Safe?

The jury is still out.

Currently the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are studying the chemical’s potential danger to humans, animals and the environment.

However, several independent research studies have linked the chemical to a range of adverse health effects. Some researchers also believe that excessive exposure to triclosan may disrupt the body’s natural hormone production, interfere with muscle function and encourage the growth of even stronger bacteria.

Others worry that its buildup in the environment may pose serious consequences for wildlife ecosystems.

Minnesota First State Agency to Ban Triclosan

After Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton demanded state agencies reduce their environmental impact, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency announced that the state will cease the purchase of all products containing triclosan beginning in June 2013.

Banning triclosan (which has been found in increasing amounts in the sediment of Minnesota lakes and rivers) is one of many environmentally friendly initiatives planned for the state. But so far, there is no pending state legislation eliminate triclosan from consumer products such as hand soap, cleaning supplies or tooth paste.

Should You Avoid Triclosan?

It’s hard to say. Currently, there’s little hard evidence suggesting that washing your hands with triclosan or other antibacterial ingredients offers health advantages over plain soap and water.

So if you’re concerned about your long-term health, you might want to reduce your exposure — just in case.

Image Credit: Flickr

Flu Prevention: Hand Sanitizer vs. Hand Soap

In the midst of one of the worst flu epidemics in over a decade, many of us are still confused about the difference between hand sanitizers and hand soap. We know they serve as our first line of defense against disease, but which one works best?

Dr. Richard Besser, Chief Medical Editor for ABC News, along with six graduate students decided to put this question to the test in the University of Maryland’s Food Safety Lab.

To test to effectiveness of both hand sanitizer and hand soap, researchers coated their hands with a liquid form of E. coli bacteria (a harmless strain). Then they proceeded to conduct four different trials with the following:

In between each trial, researchers pressed their hands onto petri dishes and then placed the dishes in an incubator to allow the bacteria to grow for two days.

So what did researchers find?

Non-Alcohol vs. Alcohol-Based Hand Sanitizer

When comparing non-alcohol and alcohol-based hand sanitizers side-by-side, it was clear that alcohol-based sanitizers were dramatically more effective than their neutral counterparts.

Alcohol-based sanitizers work by stripping away the outer layer of oil on the skin – breaking up and killing bacterial proteins. Unfortunately, many individuals do not tolerate alcohol-based products very well and end up with irritated skin.

Regular vs. Antibacterial Hand Soap

According to the results, both regular and antibacterial hand soap were equally effective – and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says they work about the same when it comes to disease prevention.

Hand Sanitizer vs. Hand Soap

Though hand sanitizer might seem like a quick alternative to getting your hands wet, regular old hand washing is still the best way to prevent illnesses like the flu. However – it’s important to note that how you use hand soap (and hand sanitizer) is crucial to its overall effectiveness.

Hand Soap and Hand Sanitizer Best Practices

Hand washing statistics have shown that theaverage person only spend a measly five seconds lathering up at the sink. Study researchers looked at this factor and found that after five seconds of hand washing, bacteria rates were virtually the same before and after.

If you really want to stave off illness, you need to wash your hands for a full 20 seconds (the equivalent of singing “Happy Birthday” twice).

Washing with hand soap is always your best option, but when you’re in a pinch, hand sanitizers are better than nothing. Just make sure you choose a sanitizer that is at least 60 percent alcohol-based and you allow it to dry for at least 15 seconds before resuming normal activities.

Special Signs May Encourage Better Hand Washing Practices

hand-soapAs U.S. officials declare flu emergencies across the country, hand washing hygiene is more important than ever. But if you saw our previous post on hand washing rates, then you know many Americans aren’t doing their part to stop the spread of influenza.

So what can we do to encourage better hand washing practices?

According to a new study – all we need is more relevant signage.

The Study

The study, which surveyed 252 college-men, posted signs in campus bathrooms that read, “4 out of 5 Males Wash Their Hands,” alongside pictures of students in University apparel and a guide to proper hand washing.

As men exited the bathroom, they were asked to fill out a questionnaire pertaining to the sign they’d just seen and whether or not they’d followed suit.

Of the men who saw the signs, 86 percent reported washing their hands. When compared to a baseline study conducted in advance of placing signs, there was a nearly 11 percent increase in hand washing rates (from 75 percent).

So what’s next?

Other factors such as whether or not participants were in the bathroom alone or in the presence of others may have affected their hand washing behavior, so more more research is definitely needed to confirm the effectiveness of these signs — especially in the hospitality and healthcare industry. However, lead researcher Maria Lapinski still feels the results have important implications.

“It is important from a public health standpoint, because quality hand-washing can prevent transmission of many diseases, and we have good evidence that people typically don’t do it as often or as well as they should.”

Other studies on the subject have shown that good restroom hygiene, as well as the availability of foaming hand soap and hand dryers have also been shown to increase hand washing rates in public restrooms.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Struggling Restaurant Owner Makes Shift to Successful Restaurant Cleaning Business

restaurant cleaning
If you’re a small business owner in today’s gloomy economic climate, it certainly doesn’t hurt to have your own niche. Just ask Taylor Smith – a restaurant owner turned restaurant cleaner.

With years of restaurant experience under his belt, Smith knew the industry inside-out when he left in 2012 to pursue his own cleaning company.

Carving Out a Niche in Restaurant Cleaning

His company CJS Global, which focuses on in-depth restaurant cleaning, offers more than your average janitorial services company. They use green commercial cleaning products to service not only the dining and restroom areas, but also the commercial kitchen equipment as well.

If you’re in the cleaning business, you know that cleaning commercial kitchen equipment is a far cry from tackling a traditional office building. And unfortunately, most restaurant owners still lean on cooking and wait staff to do most of the heavy cleaning.

Not surprisingly, Smith’s specialized services, reliance on green commercial cleaning products and eye for detail have served him well. His team of 150 employees do it all – from oven cleaners to fryer degreasers.

Shaping Passion and Resilience into a Profitable Business

In the past year, he’s secured the business of more than 100 hospitality clients in the South Florida are. In fact, business has been so successful that Smith intends to expand his services to Los Angeles within the year.

So what’s his secret to success? He simply doesn’t accept failure – even during tough times.

“No matter how much I lose, I know I can make it and wake up and it’s a fresh day.”

If you’re thinking about starting up your own business, or maybe you’re feeling a little disillusioned after a previous loss, Smith has a few words of encouragement to pass along:

“You always have to believe in yourself. If you do, you can get anywhere. It’s worked for me.”

Image Credit: Flickr

Are Restaurant Plates Making You Sick?

bacteria-restaurant-platesPut that burger down.

When eating at your favorite restaurant, the last you thing you want to think about is their commercial cleaning habits – but maybe you should. New research suggests that restaurant tableware may be an overlooked stomach flu hotspot.

“We know that when public food establishments follow the cleaning protocols, they do a very good job at getting rid of bacteria,” said Melvin Pascall, associate professor, Department of Food Science and Technology at Ohio State. “Now we can see that the protocols are less effective at removing and killing viruses — and this may help explain why there are still so many illnesses caused by cross-contaminated food.”

Stomach Flu Survives Commercial Cleaning Dishwashers

To test their theory, the research team at Ohio State infused two difficult to clean foods – cream cheese and reduced fat milk – with murine norovirus (stomach flu), E. coli K-12 or Listeria innocua. The researchers then applied the infected food to ceramic plates, glassware and stainless steel utensils. The tableware was then washed, using either traditional hand washing or a commercial dishwasher.

And the results?

The team found that both the commercial cleaning dishwashers and manual hand washing reduced E. coli K-12 and Listeria innocua to safety standards. However – neither method was able to significantly reduce the presence of murine norovirus.

In general, commercial dishwashers were more effective at eliminating both the presence of bacteria and viruses (no surprise there), but they’re still not enough. Norovirus is highly contagious – even just a few particles are enough to infect an unsuspecting diner.

“Proper sanitation and handling remain the single biggest factor that can prevent cross-contamination of food and dishware at food service establishments, said Pascall. ”However, it appears that we need to identify better agents or methods to significantly reduce the presence of norovirus and work to update the protocols.”

Noroviruses can lead to severe diarrhea and vomiting, and remain a major cause of gastroenteritis in hospitals, cruise ships and other “closed communities” where the virus can quickly spread.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

World Toliet Day: Sanitation Matters

Image Source: The Christian Science Monitor

World Toilet Day came and went a few weeks ago, unnoticed by many. Created back in 2001 to raise global awareness of the struggle billions face every day without access to clean sanitation – World Toilet Day has still failed to gain the same level of public interest achieved by other international awareness events (such as World Water Day on March 22nd).

Why World Toilet Day?

Water contamination is one of the fastest growing threats to life as we know it worldwide – and a significant amount of contamination is directly related to human sewage.

According to the World Toilet Organization, “Over a billion of the 6 billion people in the world are served by sewerage systems but much of this sewerage is discharged into rivers, lakes and the sea with little or no treatment.”

  • Roughly 2.5 billion people do not have access to a toilet worldwide
  • Over a billion people are still defecating in the open
  • Around 1.5 million deaths are cause by diarrhea each year
  • Diarrhea remains the second leading cause for children under five

World Toilet Day is an opportunity to shed some light the world’s current sewage crisis and to look toward a solution that can facilitate transformative change.

How you can help…

Whether you have professional expertise in a particular field, or a just a desire to contribute, you can play an integral role in advocating for and on behalf of the 2.5 billion people who lack safe access to a toilet.

Ways to get involved:

  • Follow World Toilet Day on Twitter and Facebook
  • Sign the Keep Your Promises petition
  • Host or plan an event your area next year
  • Contribute press releases to local media
  • Ask local sports or cultural events to promote sanitation messages
  • Spread the word anyway you can!

Are Janitors More Likely to Get the Flu?

Seasonal influenza is a contagious respiratory illness that affects approximately 5-20% of U.S. residents each year.

But who’s the most likely to get the flu?

According to a recent study of 8,700 Washington State workers conducted by the scientific journal PLOS ONE, janitors are the most likely to exhibit flu-like symptoms.

Though it might seem like teachers, healthcare workers and other professionals that work one-on-one with flu-stricken adults and children would be more prone to the bug – behind the scenes workers are actually more susceptible.

According to co-author Naomi Anderson – an epidemiologist with the State Department of Labor and Industries – the main “reason janitors are more prone to the flu is that they clean areas and objects that often harbor bacteria.”

“They’re cleaning up after us, disinfecting surfaces and touching things that are handled a lot like door knobs and handling materials and other things that could be contaminated,” Anderson went on to say.

So what’s the take away from this?

Perhaps custodial workers aren’t receiving the essential equipment and training necessary to protect them from contracting the flu. More research is certainly needed establish a cause and to find an appropriate solution.

Image Credit: Flickr

Sick Office Workers Still Show Up for Work, According to New Flu Season Survey

sick office workerIn an average year, the flu contributes to an estimated 70 million missed days of work – which calculates into roughly $10 billion in lost office productivity.

Flu season is just about to arrive, which means a multitude of employee sick days are just around the corner – or are they?

According to a new flu season survey conducted by Staples, almost 80 percent of office workers show up for work, even when they know they’re sick. This number is up 20 percent over the past year. And for those who elect to stay home, nearly two-thirds return to the office when they’re still contagious.

When asked about their office habits, the survey also demonstrated that office workers continue to make preventable errors that fuel the spread of office germs:

  • 51 percent of employees surveyed clean their desk once per week or less. Germs can live on surfaces for up three days – especially on keyboards (traditionally one of the dirtiest workspace areas).
  • 25 percent of those surveyed believed that door handles were the least sanitary place in the office, when it’s actually the break room sink, followed by the office microwave.
  • 65 percent of survey participants believed that individuals sick with the flu are contagious for a total of 1-3 days, when in actuality the flu virus is contagious at least a day prior to symptoms and for an additional 5-7 days after becoming sick.

So why are employees going to work when they’re still sick? They’re concerned about completing unfinished work.

Image Credit: Flickr

New Hand Washing Survey Reveals Some Gross Statistics

Most of us can agree that regular, thorough hand washing is an essential component to good health, but that doesn’t mean we actually practice what we preach. According to a new survey conducted by KRC Research for the global hygiene company SCA, Americans aren’t washing their hands as much as they should.

The survey interviewed 1,000 adults across the country and found the following:

  • 71% claimed to wash their hands on a regular basis
  • 58% have witnessed others leave a public restroom without hand washing
  • 35% have witnessed a co-worker leave the restroom without hand washing
  • 20% have witnessed a restaurant worker leave the restroom without hand washing

With flu season just around the corner, regular hand washing is even more important – especially for restaurant workers. So how can we encourage better hand hygiene habits?

According to the study, 61 percent of respondents were more apt to wash their hands if they considered the public restroom they were using to be clean and orderly. Simple restroom upgrades like hands-free faucets or hands-free hand soap dispensers, as well as paper towels and bulk cleaning supplies also increased their likelihood for hand washing.

Check out the infographic breakdown below.