I read an article in the Health and Science section of the Week yesterday, where a recent study has been done in Germany on bacteria found in our kitchen sponges. It concluded that there are 54 billion bacteria per cubic cm of sponge and whilst most are harmless, there were varieties of E coli and salmonella found.
‘More disturbingly, the team also found that the usual methods of cleaning sponges aren’t effective: boiling and microwaving them only killed a few weaker bacteria, leaving more room for others to flourish. The best option may simply be to replace sponges weekly’.
Two things came to mind when I read this. First of all, we are obsessed with the idea that bacteria will make us ill, and second, our answers to dealing with it, seem to have made the problem worse.
How have we become so obsessed with bacteria being bad?
The media doesn’t help! We are constantly told that germs are bad and there is a vast array of antibacterial products on the market to nuke them all! Just look at these headlines:
‘Your pillow is the perfect breeding ground for gruesome array of pests and diseases’ (Daily Mail June 2011)
‘There are 4000 more germs in your carpet than on your toilet seat’ (The Sun, July 2016)
‘Your kitchen is probably dirtier than your toilet seat’ (Foodandwine.com)
These statements may all be true, but so what? Does it mean we should be replacing our bedding every year, and our kitchen sponges every week, whilst using bleach whenever possible? I don’t think so! I think these practices are extremely bad for the environment and do us no good at all.
We have billions of bacteria living on us and in us and around us. We cannot prevent this and we shouldn’t try to. We need it! We know that ‘Good’ bacteria is essential to the functioning of our gut, and our immune system. (Check out my blog post on dirt for more info).
But what about ‘Bad’ bacteria like E coli and Salmonella? I’m not saying we should encourage these to thrive in our homes, but it is my belief that we need to be exposed to small amounts of these bacteria to help stimulate our immune system. If we then come into contact with them in large numbers, our body can initiate the appropriate immune response (isn’t that how vaccines are meant to work?)
If boiling, microwaving and bleaching is only encouraging these sorts of bacteria to thrive over harmless bacteria, (as the above article in the Week would suggest), then these practices are counterproductive anyway.
Healthy human beings are not meant to live in a sterile environment – indeed we cannot flourish without bacteria.
So where does this leave us and our kitchen sponges? Well, I wash mine in the washing machine on a normal wash whenever I remember to (maybe ones a fortnight?) and then I dry them on the line in the sunshine. Sunlight kills a lot of harmful bacteria, but it doesn’t sterilise my washing.
To ensure I am not killing off all the harmless bacteria, leaving space for ‘bad’ bacteria to flourish, I clean my worktops (and often bathrooms) with a fermented soya product called Libby Chan. This is packed full of bacteria and microorganisms which are totally harmless, non-toxic and feed on the grease and grime around the home. It is a brilliant cleaning product which ensures the continued proliferation of harmless bacteria. What a great invention!
Added to this is a healthy dose of bacteria from all our pets, all of which I believe help to keep our immune systems in balance.
So lets chill out about germs, use some common sense and leave sterilising to hospital wards!