Good hygiene practices: when microorganisms invade your privacy

How keeping microorganisms away from our environment prevents those around us from getting sick, if good hygiene practices are properly used.

Good hygiene practices: when microorganisms invade your privacy
Hygiene. Photo by Nathan Dumlao / Unsplash

Throughout our lives, we live daily with not only thousands but millions of diverse microbial groups that swarm in the kitchen, in the home bathroom, on school desks, as well as on the desk and keyboard of the office computer.

Being obsessed with clean and sanitized spaces should be considered the best attempt to keep pathogenic microorganisms out of our environment. This article shows the importance of cleaning and disinfecting the spaces where we stay daily: home, school, and the office.

During the handling of contaminated food, pathogenic microorganisms such as Staphylococcus, Salmonella, Hepatitis A virus, and Norovirus can be distributed to the hands and contact surfaces, as well as in the utensils used for their preparation.

The home

At the end of the day and during the weekend we wish to enjoy pleasant moments at home; however, even the most immaculate homes hide pathogenic microorganisms. Researchers mention that between fifty and eighty percent of the diarrheal diseases and more than fifty percent of the respiratory diseases we suffer annually are acquired at home (Janse and Gerba, 2005).

The utensils that harbor pathogenic bacteria the most are sponges, rags, and cutting boards. Next in line are door handles, keys, and knobs; not to mention the telephone receiver and television control.

Sponges, on average, contain more than seven million bacteria (Janse and Gerba, 2005). In a study conducted in the city of Culiacán, the presence of E. coli and Staphylococcus aureus was identified in sponges used for one week (Chaidez and Gerba, 2000).

The office

When we get to work, the last thing we expect to find is viruses and bacteria on our desktops or computer keyboards. However, the reality is that flu-causing viruses have been shown to survive in inanimate objects for more than 24 hours.

These viruses are transmitted by infected people one day before symptoms appear and three to seven days after the infection ends. Eating at the office isn't part of the job contract, but we do spend more than half the day there, checking documents, sending e-mails, taking calls, and, of course, enjoying a nice sandwich or glass of fruit.

Dr. Charles Gerba, from the University of Arizona, reports that, on average, the surface of the desk contains four hundred times more bacteria than the toilet seat.

The study by Dr. Gerba's task force also describes the most contaminated locations in offices and the number of bacteria per square inch:

Headset (25,127 bacteria)

Desk (20,961 bacteria)

Computer keyboard (3,295 bacteria)

Computer mouse (1,676 bacteria)

Fax (301 bacteria)

Bathroom lid (49 bacteria)

The schools

Schools generate infant overcrowding, which favors children's exposure to infectious agents that cause diarrheal and respiratory diseases.

Contamination of the hands of workers, teachers, and children, and objects such as toys and contact surfaces in schools, has been associated with the incidence of diarrhea cases.

An increased frequency of diarrhea has also been confirmed in daycare centers where workers change diapers while performing classroom or food-handling activities (Nesti and Goldbaum, 2007).

Children have been shown to put a toy or pencil in their mouths every three minutes, which becomes an important factor in the dispersal of respiratory secretions (Nepuri, 2005).

One of the main factors contributing to foodborne illness, especially in school kitchens, is improper food handling.

Once present in the kitchen, the various microorganisms are transferred to different points of the kitchen, mainly through fomites, which present a high concentration of the pathogen, and whose manipulation favors the dissemination, which increases the risk of disease.

Other factors that influence microbial spread are environmental sources, such as the number of children per square meter, the proximity of one to another, the number of garbage cans in classrooms and the bathroom, and the presence or absence of antibacterial soap in bathrooms. Factors specific to the microbial agent should be considered, within which the pathogen's route of spread, the infective dose, and how much this agent survives in the environment should always be evaluated.

One of the most important steps in reducing the spread of infectious diseases among children and caregivers is the cleaning and disinfection of surfaces that may pose a risk to both.

Cleaning and Disinfection

There is a wide variety of products that can be used to disinfect home, school, and work environments. Chemical products based on chlorine, colloidal silver, or even citric extracts. All are effective in eliminating microorganisms as long as they are used properly. However, in most cases, they are not used properly. A good example is chlorine, which is used "in jets", which is inadequate because applied in high concentrations it irritates the mucous membranes of the eyes, nose, throat, and lungs.

Listed below are some recommendations for cleaning and disinfecting home, school, and work environments:


Buy a thermometer.

Keep the temperature between 4 and 5 °C.

Clean and disinfect twice a week. Chlorine-based products and products based on citrus extracts are recommended.

Cutting boards

Purchase two cutting boards (plastic or wood, as long as they are cleaned each time they are used).

Use one for meats and one for fruits and vegetables.

Wash and brush the boards with hot water.

It is not recommended to use chlorine, as it is inactivated by the wood.

Fresh fruits and vegetables

Wash fruits and vegetables for thirty seconds.

Brush those with rough skin such as melons, lettuce, and other leaf vegetables.

Remove the outer leaves and wash each leaf separately with colloidal silver or chlorine, and apply the dose described in the product you have chosen.

Wash your hands properly

How many times a day do we touch our mouth, nose, eyes, and ears? Several studies agree that adults do it between one and three times every five minutes, while the average in children is ten times in the same time interval. Only 16 percent of the population knows how to wash their hands properly. The recommendation is to use antibacterial soap or an alcohol-based gel and rub your hands together for 20 seconds.

Kill microorganisms, don't spread them

Viruses survive for more than 24 hours on inanimate objects and hands. Seven out of ten people with a viral infection have the virus on their hands. When a person coughs or sneezes they expel the saliva drops to a distance of one meter. The air and particles come out at a speed of more than 120 kilometers per hour. For surfaces (telephone handsets, knobs, tables, desks, computer keyboards, among others), wipes impregnated with disinfectant are recommended.

Sponges and rags

On average a sponge contains 7.2 million bacteria. Avoid cleaning contact surfaces, as microorganisms will disperse. What to do? How to disinfect the sponge and rags? Place the sponge or damp cloth in the microwave and turn it on for two minutes. Pour two drops of concentrated chlorine into 250 milliliters of water for five minutes and immerse the sponge or cloth in this mixture. Depending on the frequency of use, replace the sponge or cloth every two or three weeks.


In a wet bath, one bacterium becomes one billion in 24 hours. Let soap bars dry, because wet bars transmit germs to the people who use them, even if they are antibacterial soaps. The recommendation for disinfecting bath sponges is the same as for kitchen sponges.

Both fixed and mobile showers should be disinfected once a week. If someone has an infection, the "phone" showerhead should be disinfected each time it is used. To disinfect the toothbrush, it should be rinsed with hot water for twenty seconds. It can then be soaked in oral disinfectant or hydrogen peroxide and left to dry.

The sink should be disinfected every week. It is recommended that each family member use a different towel and glass for personal hygiene. The toilet should be covered after each flush, as aerosols can form.


The use of disinfectant products based on specific application protocols favors the reduction of the microbial load present in our environment. However, a better understanding of the importance of proper application of hygiene procedures in the home, school, and office is necessary to generate healthier conditions within the home.

Keeping microorganisms away from our environment prevents those around us from getting sick if good hygiene practices are properly used. Hopefully, this information will be useful for all people interested in pursuing good health.

Source: Food and Development Research Center