Clean up on hygiene myths

Forget the five-second rule

Image: Pixabay

We’re all guilty of doing certain things just because it’s what we’ve always done. Perhaps you read it in a magazine a few years ago or someone close to you once said that it is the best or most effective approach.

From the way you cook and wash up, to the cleaning products you rely on, sometimes what we’ve always believed to be fact, when it comes to hygiene, is actually nothing but a myth.

So says Ecowize chief commercial officer Gareth Lloyd-Jones, a specialised hygiene and sanitation service provider for the food and beverage industry, who notes that, given the recent listeria outbreak, South Africans should be taking a closer look at their hygiene practices.

“Greater awareness around the right and wrong ways of maintaining optimal hygiene levels is as essential for employees within the food industry as it is for the general public in their own homes,” Lloyd-Jones says.

He shares seven of the most common hygiene myths and misconceptions:

  • Public toilets are hot-spots for germs to breed and thrive

Public toilets aren’t actually as bad as many people believe.

Depending on the building management, these facilities are often cleaned regularly, with strong antibacterial and disinfectant products. That’s not to say there is no risk of bacterial contamination – think E coli, staphylococcus (the virus behind food poisoning and a form of pneumonia) and even hepatitis A.

When using a public toilet – or any bathroom for that matter – it is vital that proper care is taken to protect yourself from these harmful germs.

However, your risk of picking up nasty bacteria isn’t much higher than in any other public place.

  • Your fridge maintains a constant temperature

Every time you open and close your fridge, the inside temperature is affected. Likewise, if you overfill your fridge, or place food inside that is still a bit warm, the temperature can rise.

Storing certain foods such as dairy and meat products in a fridge that is not cold enough increases the chance of bacteria growth. Check your fridge temperature regularly and ensure it is set between 0°C and 4°C at all times.

  • You can keep leftovers for as long as you like and can re-heat them multiple times

Unfortunately, there is a limit to how long fresh or cooked foods last before going bad.

While this differs across all products and produce, cooked food should generally only be stored for about two days.

Just as important, leftovers and precooked foods should only ever be reheated once.

The more times you heat, handle and cool food, the greater the risk of harmful bacteria developing.

  • You kill the bacteria on food when you freeze it

Freezing is by no means an effective way to make food safe to eat.

In fact, many bacteria can endure freezing temperatures so, when food is defrosted, the same bacteria is likely to be present and will – at this stage – begin to grow.

The best way to kill harmful bacteria on food is actually to cook it thoroughly, ensuring an internal temperature of at least 75°C, or hotter for most meat products.

  • Hand sanitisers kill all germs

When a product is marketed to kill 99.9% of germs, it is important to remember that it might not be effective at all on the specific bacteria you have been exposed to.

There is no substitute for washing your hands with soap and water.

Disinfectant gels should only be used as a temporary fix until handwashing facilities are available.

  • Use-by and best-before dates on food products don’t really mean anything

Firstly, it is important to note that these terms have different meanings.

Perishable foods like meat and dairy products, as well as prepared food, which need to be kept in the fridge, are marked with a use-by date, noting when it is no longer safe to consume the product.

Best-before dates, on the other hand, refer to the quality of a product, so packaged produce and baked goods will include this label.

With this in mind, it is perfectly okay to eat food that has passed its best-before date, consuming products past their use-by date can, however, put you at risk of bacterial contamination and illness – like food poisoning.

  • The five-second rule

The truth is that five isn’t a magic number and food which has been dropped on the floor collects bacteria straight away.

“You’re not alone if you believed any of these myths. What matters is that you implement what you know now and protect yourself and those around you from harmful germs,” Lloyd-Jones says.