Cleanliness seems to be an obsession in our community right now. I’m constantly getting questioned about how clean and safe the produce we sell is. Everyone seems to be afraid of the next outbreak or pandemic that is certainly lurking in the dark corners of our world. To combat that fear people are pushing for more stringent regulation of food and food production. They are also being more obsessive about cleaning. I see lots of people using antimicrobial wipes on everything. Anything that may have been touched by another person or, coughed on, or looked at by someone else gets wiped down. Every surface gets sprayed by the latest wonder killer that is guaranteed to kill 99.9% of germs. There are even sprays to kill microbes floating in the air. Armed with wipes, gels, and sprays, everyone feels safer. But are they?
99.9% of microbes eliminated seems like a really effective product. However, on the average kitchen counter, which contains approximately 64000 microbes per square inch that cleaning product would leave 64 microbes that weren’t killed. These microbes have some level of resistance to our antimicrobials. They also now live in a world where their ideal growth conditions exist and where they have no competitors (remember we just killed them all). Populations grow exponentially, and the microbe population will double each generation. Those 64 microbes become 128, then 256, 512, 1024, 2048, 4096, 8192, 16384, 32768, 65536. Within 10 generations they are back to the levels they started at. This can happen in a few hours. The thing I find really frightening is that these microbes are somewhat resistant to the antimicrobials we use. Every time we use them we enhance the resistance. Soon we have created super microbes we can’t kill. We have also destroyed the balance in the microbe populations and that allows one or two types to expand beyond their normal population levels. Microbes that were a normal part of the world, causing no problems for anyone, often acting beneficial ways, suddenly become a toxic problem.
In the garden we use compost tea as a spray. It makes a great foliar feed, but it also covers the plants with a vast array of microbes. This creates a very divers microbe community on the plants and in the surrounding soil. It goes a long way to eliminating microbial diseases in plants because no one population gets out of control. Maybe we need this same approach at home. Maybe we should clean with products that kill less, disturbing the balance less. Maybe we should be eating foods that are less processed and contain more diverse microbial populations like raw veggies, raw milk, cheeses, fermented grains, yogurts, etc.
I know of a hospital where they eliminated all the antimicrobial cleaning products and started using a mild dish detergent as their cleaner. The number of staff infections and other common microbial problems seen in hospitals dropped significantly. Might be a good thing to try at home.
What do you use for cleaning?