7 tips to avoid summertime’s nastiest germs

It may come as a surprise, but summertime is high season for germs. So–in a moment, I’ll give you seven tips for avoiding some of the nastiest germs that run rampant at this time of year.

Of course, in the wintertime we see high microbe activity too. That’s because germs can’t move around much on their own. They rely on susceptible hosts (us people) for transmission–no matter the temperature.

We transmit some types of microbes by breathing the air. We transmit others through direct contact–that is, by touching a contaminated surface and then touching our eyes, nose, or mouth. So in the winter, when we stay inside more and come into close contact with other people, germs can spread much easier, which leads to more infections.

But now that winter is finally over, don’t think the microbes go away. Actually, most germs flourish at warmer temperatures. And they thrive in warmer climates and during warmer seasons. Furthermore, the warm human body–with a normal temperature of 98.6 degrees F–is an ideal breeding ground for many microbes.

(Microbes prefer warm temperatures, but they have a limited comfort zone. Temperatures above 100 degrees F disrupt their cellular metabolism and structure. That’s why the human body naturally fights off infection with a fever. At the boiling point of water, we have complete sterilization.)

Now that you understand why germs actually like warm weather, let’s go over some tips for keeping those nasty germs out of your kitchen and your bathrooms.

Tip No.1: Wash the fridge

Yes–your kitchen sink comes in contact with lots of microbes. But it also gets a lot of exposure to running water and detergents, which counteract germs and wash them away.

Turns out, the meat and vegetable compartments in your refrigerator are the most germ-infested areas in the kitchen. Not the sink. And the germs that flourish in it can be nasty.

In fact, according to recent reports, up to a third of packaged chicken may contain measurable levels of salmonella. So never sit packaged chicken or other meats directly on your refrigerator shelves. Instead, keep them inside a food container in the fridge until you’re ready to cook them. That way, the raw liquids won’t ever touch your refrigerator shelves. Then, wash out the container after you cook the meat.

Tip No. 2: Cook meat thoroughly

Adequate cooking of meat will get rid of salmonella and most other harmful microbes. So make sure to cook through chicken, lamb and pork, especially around bones.

Beef is a different story.

I prefer my beef rare to medium-rare, which tastes better and preserves more of its high nutritional value. Just make sure to sear the outside surfaces at a high temperature either in a pan or on a grill. Searing also helps hold in the delicious juices that make the meat more tasty and tender.

For fruits and vegetables, always wash the outside skin before cutting through the surfaces.

Tip No. 3: Skip the sponge

Sponges wipe away surface dirt. But they don’t  disinfect surfaces. In fact, they help spread microbes around. With multiple re-uses, sponges contain millions of microbes.

Tip No. 4: Think twice about dropped food

Many people subscribe to five-second rule for dropped food. But picking up food off the floor is far from ideal.

In a recent study, researchers from Aston University tested food dropped onto the floor every 30 seconds. And they found a dose-response effect. In other words, the longer the food stayed on the floor, the more contaminated with E. coli (a common fecal bacteria) and staphylococcus (a common skin bacteria) it became.

The type of surface also made a difference. Sticky foods dropped on smooth surfaces became the most contaminated. Dry food dropped on carpets had the least contamination. The food sits up on top of tufts of carpet fibers and has less surface contact.

So, when you eat something off the floor, you’re really playing the odds. Though, if your dog is like mine, he will probably get there first, which will help you avoid the dilemma in any case.

Tip No. 5:  Use plain old soap and water
Current research now indicates antibacterial soaps don’t kill more germs than washing with regular soap and water. Plus, many experts believe antibacterial products help bring about the rise of dangerous, antibiotic-resistant “superbugs.” To make matters worse, many antibacterial products contain toxic chemicals that can affect your hormonal balance and harm your health. So skip the antibacterial soap and gels. Instead, wash your hands at a sink whenever possible with plain old soap and water. (In a pinch, you can use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.)

Tip No. 6: Use paper towels
For years, we’ve been led to believe the air-powered, “no-touch” hand dryers found in public restrooms are more hygienic than old-fashioned paper towels. But new research shows nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, these supposedly “germ-free” hand dryers clearly spread cold and flu viruses throughout public restrooms–and directly onto you.

Just how bad are the hand dryers? Bacterial counts in the air around high-velocity jet air dryers are about five times higher than they are around lower-velocity warm-air dryers. And nearly 30 times higher compared to using paper towels.

Plus, hand dryers claim to be more environmentally friendly. But all the electrical energy has to come from somewhere, so I doubt there has been a fair comparison.

Tip No. 7: Avoid door handles and faucet handles in public bathrooms

I know many well-educated adults–mostly women–who think they can catch germs in public bathrooms by sitting on toilet seats. So they “hold it” while they’re out, to the point where they border on toxicity and dehydration.

The truth is, microbes commonly found in feces and urine die almost instantly as soon as they leave the body. So you can safely sit in the bathroom now.

On the other hand, door handles and faucets in public restrooms actually have a ton of microbes. So after washing your hands with soap and water, grab a fresh paper towel to help you turn off the faucet and open the door. Toss the used paper towel in the trash on your way out. The waste bin is usually located near the door.

Now–just remember, not all bacteria are bad. Your body actually needs “good” bacteria to maintain a healthy gastro-intestinal tract and fight off infection. Plus, increasing evidence shows these “good” bacterial also have many health benefits for the brain, the heart, and the rest of your body.

Just don’t take probiotic supplements, which studies show don’t work. Instead, eat more healthy, “probiotic foods” such as beer, cheese, or sauerkraut.

Also, avoid taking antibiotics except in the case of life-threatening infections.

Last–keep your immune system strong with good foods and optimal vitamin and mineral levels. I recommend a high-quality daily B vitamin complex, as well as 10,000 IU per day of vitamin D3, in addition to selenium, magnesium and zinc.

We live in a germ-filled world…that will never change. But we can learn to live with them, as we’ve done for millennia.


“Microbiological comparison of hand-drying methods: Potential contamination of the environment, user and bystander.” Journal of Hospital Infection 2014; 88(4): 199-206