Q: Chuck, I'm all for saving the environment, but I heard reusable grocery bags can host quite a few bacteria that can make us sick. Ever read anything about this? — "Bagging the Blues" in Huntington Beach, Calif.
A: Last week, I discussed the first three of the top places where you and your loved ones could get sick. They included your work environment, public restrooms and the bank. Today I will examine three more of "the germiest hotspots," according to a great article in Men's Health by Paige Fowler, "6 Places You're Mostly Likely to Get Sick."
Again, let me summarize her excellent points and add a few more of my own about how to avoid the bacteria that crawl around and multiply in these places that we all frequent most.
—Germ hot spot No. 4: the grocery.
This one may sound like a given, but in addition to holding your favorite foods, your grocery can be a bacteria war zone for potential sicknesses and diseases.
Wiping down the handles on shopping carts with sanitizing wipes is a must, and most supermarkets offer them now at their entrances. But here's something else to be careful of: placing your children on the shopping cart seats or even inside the cart (which is widely done), where packages of raw meat may have leaked their juices.
Lola Stamm, an epidemiologist at the University of North Carolina, warned for your protection and for the protection of others: "Wrap meat packages in a plastic bag before putting them in your cart."
A piece of advice that leads me to a not-so-obvious microbial culprit carrier in supermarkets and your house: reusable shopping bags. I understand they're better for the environment, but have you ever considered the germs that are also placed into the bags — meat juices, loose produce, etc. — and then fester there until you return to the store? (The one plus about plastic bags is that they often are never used again and are discarded — bacteria and all.)
According to a University of Arizona study, in Men's Health's words, "ninety percent of shoppers don't wash these bags regularly. ... Researchers found coliform bacteria — from raw meat — and E. coli in nearly every reusable bag they sampled." Wow!
The point is clear: Make sure you wash your reusable bags in between each trip to your grocery. Washing them in a washing machine on hot is obviously best. And to avoid cross-contamination, make sure you use separate and distinct bags for meats and produce.
—Germ hot spot No. 5: hotel rooms.
You knew this one was coming: television remote controls. But don't forget those light switches, too. Both are bacteria-bolstering communities, according to a University of Houston study.
So always pack sanitizing wipes when loading your luggage — or just keep a pack in your suitcase. And make sure you clean hotel room surfaces every day, because even maids can be sick or transfer germs from other rooms if they're not using a different pair of gloves to clean each room. Even your maid's cleaning carts can transfer bacteria from one room to the next. That's a good reason to hang the "Don't disturb" sign on your door if you're staying for only a couple of days in a hotel; that way, no one else enters your room but you. You can always ask and pick up clean towels yourself.
And though bedsheets can be changed daily in hotel rooms, I remember seeing a "60 Minutes" exposé once on hotel bed covers that are placed over the sheets. Those tend not to be washed or changed very often. What investigators discovered under infrared light on the surface of the bed covers was a bit much for my stomach to list here. Let's just say that I'd stick to sitting in sanitized hotel chairs if I'm not sure the bed cover has been washed or replaced recently. Many upscale hotels are now replacing bed covers, as well as sheets, daily. Check with hotel management about cleaning policies before you check in, asking particularly whether those cleaning the rooms put on a new pair of gloves before they clean each room and how often they change the bed covers.
—Germ hot spot No. 6: gym weight equipment.
This is a tough one for me because I love my gym and use it often.
Men's Health reported: "One study in the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine found cold-causing viruses on 63 percent of the gym equipment. Researchers also discovered that weight equipment was contaminated significantly more often than aerobic equipment — 73 percent versus 51 percent. Even worse: Disinfecting twice a day didn't do anything to lower the virus count since plenty of people still use them between wipe-downs."
I'm certainly not saying to avoid local gyms. I'm a big advocate of them. Again, the point here is that you need to bring along your own sanitizing wipes and sanitizer. If you keep a small packet of wipes by the towel you use to wipe your sweat, you can inconspicuously pull one out every time you use a different piece of equipment. Quickly wipe down the weights or piece of equipment before you use it, and then stay there in between reps or sets so others don't use it. If you feel pushed for others to use it, good! The faster you get through your routine the better the cardio, generally.
And here's where it gets tricky, because some might think wearing gym gloves is the answer. Actually, Japanese researchers discovered that "staph bacteria found on weights and machines bind to polyester, the material used in many gloves," according to Men's Health. And what often happens from there is that we wipe our brow or mouth with the gloves and then become infected.
The best advice is simply don't use gloves, unless you're working out at home — and even then it's best to ditch them. The added plus in doing so is that it will actually strengthen your grip and forearms. Wipe your sweat with your forearm or clean towel, and just be careful not to touch your hands to your face while at the gym.
Potential bacteria and germs at public gyms are one more reason to consider buying home gym equipment, such as some free weights or the Total Gym, which my wife, Gena, and I regularly use and sponsor. At least you know at home who's been using your equipment — unless, of course, the kids have the neighbors over!
Remember that when it comes to germs and bacteria, the balance in life is found in prevention and precaution, but not in paranoia.
Write to Chuck Norris ([email protected]) with your questions about health and fitness. Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook's "Official Chuck Norris Page." He blogs at http://chucknorrisnews.blogspot.com. To find out more about Chuck Norris and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
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