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Tidy the house to fight sickness
Officials say washing hands does more good than wearing face masks
A recent AOL Health survey on Americans' hygiene habits found that 2 percent of the 20,409 people who took the survey have never cleaned out their fridge. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

Healthy Monday

Every Monday The Times looks at topics affecting your health. If you have a topic or issue you would like to see covered in our weekly series, contact senior content editor Edie Rogers via e-mail,

Do you want to protect yourself against illness? Clean your house and wash your hands.

And the kitchen is one of the places that may be most important to keep clean, according to Hall County Family and Consumer Sciences Extension Agent Debbie Wilburn.

In this room of the house especially, taking a little time could cut a lot of risk of spreading harmful bacteria, Wilburn said.

Though it can be a nuisance, Wilburn suggests washing dirty dishes immediately. Only about 50 percent of Americans who responded to a recent survey performed by AOL Health said they wash their dishes immediately after using them. Most people do not leave dirty dishes in the sink for more than a day, according to the survey results.

Even when they sit overnight, dirty dishes create a breeding ground for insects and rodents, which can bring diseases with them, Wilburn said.

"It's kind of like you're putting out a buffet," Wilburn said.

The survey conducted by AOL Health shows that while most Americans take out the trash at least once a week, only about 35 percent clean their trash cans at least once a month.

And in the kitchen, that kind of cleanliness can become a food safety issue, Wilburn says.

"Yes, that needs to be cleaned at least once a month," Wilburn said.

Trash cans with lids are more susceptible to spreading bacteria, and should be cleaned more frequently, Wilburn said, as they can come into direct contact with discarded meat and food.

"If you've got the bacteria on the lid, every time you're touching the lid, your hands are coming in contact with the bacteria," Wilburn said. "At least wash the lid much more frequently."

The same goes for the refrigerator, Wilburn said. Although cold temperatures in refrigerators may slow the spread of bacteria, they do not kill them altogether, Wilburn said.

"When we talk about bacteria, they can survive refrigerator temperatures," Wilburn said.

Wilburn suggests cleaning the refrigerator by simply wiping it down with a clean washcloth once a week - a feat only about 15 percent of the people who responded to the AOL Health survey said they accomplish.

Spills in the refrigerator should be cleaned immediately, however.

"When the trash goes out, take the time to clean older food out of the refrigerator," Wilburn said. "If you do a weekly maintenance cleaning, it's not going to take a lot of time to keep it clean."

But likely the best defense against being affected by harmful bacteria in the kitchen is washing our hands, Wilburn said.

Nearly 80 percent of the people who responded to the AOL Health survey said they wash their hands before eating and after going to the bathroom.

While flu masks may be in vogue in airports, they are not as good of a defense against the flu as a 20-second-long scrub with soap and hot water, Wilburn said.

"The mask basically may help keep you from spreading it to other people, but it's not really going to protect you from other people; your hand washing will," Wilburn said.

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