By: Alice Vo Edwards

A lot of people are concerned about the Boston-based E. Coli Outbreak linked to The Chicken & Rice Guys chain of restaurants and food truck fleet – especially since at least 15 confirmed cases of infection have been identified in surrounding Massachusetts towns outside of the Boston area. The best thing people can do in an outbreak like this is be extra vigilant about cleanliness with their own family and encourage those they know to be as well. In outbreaks such as these, one cannot be too careful to protect their families and help to prevent the spread of infection.

While natural remedies, going green, and organic are always my personal first choice, this is one of those times when, rather than risk contracting this illness, I might consider pulling out some antibacterial hand soap and cleaner for a week or two. Scientists have studied a number of household cleaners in comparison to two of the most common ingredients in natural home cleaning remedies, vinegar and baking soda, and found the chemical cleaners to be much more effective than the home remedies according to a study performed by scientists at the University of North Carolina Department of Hospital Epidemiology. I did find one good quality, more natural cleaning option, also. It never hurts to check the label to see if the product is effective against foodborne pathogens.

What are the best cleaners to use to disinfect my house?

The two best household cleaners for killing E. coli and a slew of other pathogens are Clorox bleach and Lysol Antibacterial Kitchen Cleaner. In the University of North Carolina study, Clorox bleach and Lysol were the only ones that killed all the pathogens they were tested on.

Slightly less effective, but still strong enough that they killed everything except poliovirus was Mister Clean Ultra. A few industrial strength cleaners (which I personally would not recommend for home use) were also about as strong as Mister Clean Ultra are Virustat TBQ™, Vesphene Ilse, and ethanol. It might be wise to ensure that whoever is cleaning your office is using one of them.

A Word of Caution On Cleaning Products

Please don’t just pull out Clorox bleach and dump it on the counter or dip your sponge in it. Full strength Clorox bleach is very concentrated (way stronger than needed) and the chemical fumes can be hazardous to your health. You don’t want to trade one illness for another. Buy the spray that’s made for the counter, or follow the manufacturer’s instructions on the right amount to use for countertops if you want to save money and make your own spray bottle. Also, this is not the time to buy the generic product, unless you compare the concentration of Clorox in the bottle to that in the brand-name bottle and it’s the same. One of the ways off-brands save money is in the concentrations used for ingredients, so make sure you’re a savvy shopper and read the labels.

It’s natural or nothing for me. What’s my best option?

If you want to stick to natural products that have low toxicity ratings (like I do), the best product to use is PureGreen. It relies on a silver and citrus combination and demonstrates a faster than average rate of killing bacteria, which is impressive. Keep in mind that PureGreen is not listed on the EPA’s registered antimicrobial products list for Norovirus, which is the list being recommended by Massachusetts that residents follow during this outbreak. PureGreen’s advertisements claim that it does protect against E. coli, but I was unable to find any peer-reviewed, reliable sources provided on their site or elsewhere to support their claims specific to E. coli. I think this is a great option for every-day house cleaning, but I wouldn’t risk my family’s safety during an outbreak without further proof.

That’s a pretty short list! Are there any other cleaners I can use than those listed here?

Yes, the EPA has published a list of cleaning products that they have determined to be effective against Norovirus, with the Boston Public Health Commission and Massachusetts Public Health Departments are recommended be used for disinfecting surfaces that may have been contaminated. Many of them contain the same key ingredients that are included in the recommended products listed in the University of North Carolina study and are just variants approved for different brands. I’m not including all of them because the list is long, but a simple google search for “List G: EPA’s Registered Antimicrobial Products Effective Against Norovirus” will pull it up for you or a visit to the EPA’s website here.

How do you know if your home has been contaminated?

There is no way to tell if your home has been contaminated unless one of your family members is sick. Even then, they would be sick enough that you take them to the doctors and a lab test is done on their feces and E. coli is found. But it can take up to 10 days for symptoms to develop, and meanwhile, individuals can still be contagious.

The scary part is that your family may not have been in Boston, but someone else in your city that you came into contact with may have been one of those affected in the initial outbreak and may have unintentionally spread it to you or your family. Secondary transmission of E. coli is very easy.

Right now, since the outbreak has not been traced back yet to a particular food or person-related source, it would be wise to be extra cautious and encourage your family to wash their hands before leaving the restroom, every time, and re-wash before cooking or eating. Parents can unintentionally affect babies, also, so it is a good practice to wash your hands before feeding any young children.

If that old adage “Better safe than sorry” rings true to you right now, hopefully this article has helped you know how to clean safely, and effectively. Happy cleaning!

Stay in the loop as this story continues to unfold. UnsafeFoods will continue to provide coverage on this outbreak as we learn more, so check back for updates.

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