Opinion: Why it is good to jog along with bacteria

Seaweed feature with Jane Pottas

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Seaweed feature with Jane Pottas w134816a
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Disinfectant spray kills 99.9% of bacteria and viruses on surfaces and can help to protect your familyfrom illness.

The Advertising Standards Authority makes sure that all advertising is legal, decent, truthful and honest so this claim made for a well known brand of aerosol disinfectant must comply with these regulations.

But why are consumers made to feel that it is necessary to eliminate practically all bacteria and viruses from our homes? We have been manipulated by powerful advertising into thinking that all bacteria are harmful and that we can protect our families by using all manner of antibacterial products including disinfectant sprays, antibacterial hand wash/detergent/washing up liquid, antibacterial impregnated chopping boards etc etc etc. However, unless we are in hospital where it is important to prevent the spread of disease, or have a compromised immune system and should avoid exposure to pathogens there is no need for our homes and bodies to be subject to the same rigorous standards of cleanliness as an operating theatre. The aim of cleaning in the home should be to reduce bacterial numbers, not to eliminate them altogether.

Humans and our ancestors evolved over millennia alongside thousands of species of bacteria. We have learned to jog along together.

Our bodies are home to 100 trillion microorganisms on our skin, in our gut, and on mucosal surfaces. The skin microbial community (microbiota) is made up of over 1,000 different species, the majority of which are thought to be harmless. Some species are beneficial– the skin microbiota is known to educate the immune system, for instance.

The numbers of each species are kept in check by the others but harmful bacteria can multiply to dangerous numbers and cause disease if the microbial community changes for some reason.

We cannot survive without our microscopic passengers or should that be partners. The advertisers’ message that says that all bacteria are bad and must be destroyed should be questioned and discredited.

Thorough hand washing for 20 – 30 seconds with ordinary soap is as effective at removing bacteria as an antibacterial equivalent.

Using an antibacterial hand wash may even contribute to poorer skin hygiene in the belief that the antibacterial component can compensate for a quick rinse under the tap. Hot water and ordinary washing up liquid will clean dishes as successfully as one with an added antibacterial agent.

Plastic chopping boards get scratched and dirt gets trapped in the cuts.

Tests have shown that wooden chopping boards are more hygienic. Wood contains natural antibacterial substances and cuts made by knives in the wood grain close up and do not harbour germs. Washing with hot soapy water and a regular scrub with salt will keep a wooden chopping board clean. Bacteria thrive and multiply where conditions are favourable, ie moist, warm and a source of food.

It only requires good hygiene practice to make conditions less favourable and it does not necessitate the use of antibacterial products.

There is no need to kill 99.9% of bacteria and viruses because they aren’t all harmful anyway.