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Nov 2, 2009 09:29 AM

Disinfecting cleaners vs viruses & bacteria

With all the emphasis on keeping free of H1N1, many of us are using disinfecting gels and wipes and perhaps cleaners. I use the wipes for wiping down my countertops and frankly, use them for other wiping jobs in the kitchen as well. Many, many people use the gels for their hands (not me!) or antibacterial detergent to wash their hands (again not me). The active ingredient in my counter wipes seems to be 2 forms of ammoniam chloride. The label on the tub states it kills flu viruses.

Assuming, let's say, that 20% of the population in the US, and perhaps other Western countries, begin using some form of disinfectant in the kitchen or on their hands regularly. what will the effect be on the bacteria and viruses? Will they become resistant to the currently available disinfectants?

I confess ignorance of the active ingredient in sanitizing gels, but I know that a major hospital in our area requires the use of this before every staff visit to a patient room. I wonder if the hospital kitchen requires its personnel to sanitize? I wonder if some restaurants do?

I guess my question is, should disinfecting cleaners be as widely available as they are? Will there be consepquences?

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  1. There's a big difference between an antibiotic and an antiseptic-- my understanding is that an antibiotic halts bacterial growth by preventing part of the bacterial replication process, whereas an antiseptic causes the bacteria to disintegrate (dry out, blow up, whatever). For example, amoxicillin is an antibiotic, but bleach is an antiseptic. Resistance can develop against antibiotics, but not antiseptics, since there's no gene modification that can prevent bleach (or alcohol from sanitizing gels) from dissolving the cell membranes.

    Some soaps containing Triclosan (at low concentrations) are antibiotic (not necessarily antiviral), so bacterial resistance can develop (it's biocidal at higher concentrations). Sanitizing gel containing relatively high concentrations of alcohol will kill bacteria and viruses but will not cause resistance to develop. Nor will resistance develop to compounds like bleach.

    So I think your concerns are very important, I wish more people were concerned about the overuse of antibiotics and bacterial resistance! I also avoid using soaps with triclosan, since soap and water (and a full 20 seconds of washing) are incredibly effective at removing offending microbes. However, I think that the use of alcohol containing gels (not the alcohol free gels, which are not as effective) is an incredibly good idea, particularly when handwashing is inconvenient, and does not cause resistance to develop (drys the heck out of your skin, though).

    3 Replies
    1. re: chococat

      Exactly! I've tried without much success to stop our secretary from buying dish and hand soap with Triclosan for the office kitchen. No reason to court bacterial resistance + it doesn't kill viruses (flu) anyway.

      I have read that some of the alcohol free gels are reasonably effective, and I wonder if that wouldn't be important in a high heat (professional) kitchen where flamability might be an issue?

      1. re: danna

        I hadn't considered the flammability issue-- excellent point. Many of the alcohol-free preps use benzalkonium chloride, which is not flammable, but can cause allergic reactions and is rather environmentally toxic (particularly to fish). Either way, ANY kind of hand sanitizer should only be used on hands that are free of crud! Hand sanitizers should NOT be considered a substitute for thorough hand washing-- I sometimes get concerned that people use sanitizer instead of washing their hands-- ick. If someone has crud on their hands and does a quick sanitizer rub, the crud (albeit bacteria and virus free) is STILL all over their hands...

      2. re: chococat

        Good points. The reason I don't use hand sanitzing gels or antibacterial detergent is because they are awfully hard on my hands, and because I have read that washing with soap or detergent is very effective. You've given me another reason to avoid detergents with Triclosan. I would use a gel if I felt that was my only or best choice to clean my hands, though. But basically why not use the simplest way if it works well?

        The counter wipes I use do say they kill flu viruses. But I began using them because they are simple and effective for wiping down counters.

        I hope we hear from a few food service people. It would be interesting to know how seriously they or their employers take H1N1.

      3. Maybe I'm just a risk taker. I don't use antibacterial agents at all - at least not for surface cleaning. I prefer to be exposed to low levels of all the ubiquitous germs. The worst high-level offenders are the dishcloth and tea towel.

        People refuse to eat something dropped on a tiled floor, but will happily sit on the grass and eat a sandwich. Soil has a vast armada of microbes competing to live in the kill or be killed environment of ground warfare. They also take out their enemies with destructive chemicals and DNA bombs. Penicillium is one example.

        I do not believe we as a species are designed to live in antisepsis.

        Edit: I do put a spoonful of bleach in water when I put a bunch of basil or parsley in water.

        6 Replies
        1. re: Paulustrious

          " antisepsis"-by definition, destruction of the microorganisms that produce sepsis or septic disease. I think the word you want is asepsis, which means sterility. I also don't think humans are ment to live in that state either.
          Are you adding the bleach to extend the life of the herbs (as in fresh cut flowers) or, in some manner, trying to kill bacteria? Or both? I don't understand...
          If you're trying to preserve the freshness of the herbs, wrap them in a damp paper towel, then pop them in a zip lock bag and into the frig.

          BTW, flower food, which is a biocide, is best for keeping cut flowers fresh. I wouldn't use it for my herbs, though.;-)

          1. re: bushwickgirl

            Your right in terms of me going septimental. The bleach stops the stems going slimy and preserves the life of the herbs. It goes back to a trial I made once where I split some basil into two glasses and left it to rot. I'd cut the stems of the basil so they had a fresh 'surface'. The bleached ones were better. I grow basil so I conducted a few experiments. It was also better if I removed the elastic band round the herbs. This wasn't exactly a double blind conclusive trial, but that what I do now. I also find that parsley (at this time of the year - 1 to 10C) last batter in the bleak Autumn sunlight than in the fridge.

            1. re: Paulustrious

              I always wash my farm fresh eggs (very dirty unfortunately) with a very weak chlorine solution just to make sure, then scrub the debris off. Never used on anything else (except cat litter pan)so very interesting.

              For surfaces, I use restaurant supply "surface sanitizer" which you spray on but don't wipe off, at least not completely. It's used in hospitals and adult homes mostly. One is made by Clorox and has (of course) Sodium Hypochlorite, the other is more institutional and has an "active quat solution" which also looks like chloride is included. Hard to go wrong with alcohol or bleach. Or even vinegar for that matter.

              But this is at home, and I'm sure most bad bugs are out there somewhere where you have no knowledge of what's going on. I refuse to become Howard Hughes about it.

              And to answer above, food service is not only concerned, but seeing dollar signs too. There is actually a shortage of antibacterial and sanitizer products right now, because Walmart and Target and the like bought it all up for their shopping cart areas.

              1. re: coll

                Somewhere, sometime, I read something about (...this is beginning to sound a bit iffy ) about washing eggs. And it is better not do it until you are using them. The egg is covered with a surface protectant that stops water loss. This membrane breaks down with time and allows air to diffuse through the shell as the chick grows. The white gets thinner, and the air 'bubble' gets larger. Hence you can tell the age of an egg by putting it in water. If it floats it is destined for the bin. The older it is the more the eggs tries to stand on its point in water.

                All commercial eggs are washed.

                1. re: Paulustrious

                  jfood heard that on strawberries.

                  1. re: Paulustrious

                    I have heard that once you wash them you have to refrigerate as the protective coating is gone, so similar info. The eggs I buy are sitting at room temp, but once I wash them (sometimes a day or two later) then they go in fridge. I usually cook within a week or so, so they don't get too old either way.

          2. I remember I believe a Consumer's Report study which concluded that the antibacterial cloths and sponges did little to eliminate bacteria on things that were wiped like counters but were effective at keeping themselves bacteria free.

            1. Let's see:

              Jfood has a Purell his two offices, all the cars, his briefcase several rooms in the house.

              He attended a Business banquet a few weeks ago and one of the speakers was the CEO of a company that makes these. One of the give-aways at each plate was a nice bottle to take with.

              Nah...nothing anal retentive there. :-))