Ask The Nurse: Is the "5-Second-Rule" Really Safe?

dropped food bacteria

Dear Nurse Chris: My husband grew up in a family that allowed the “5-second rule.” If you dropped food on the floor, but picked it up in less than five seconds, it was OK to eat. I know it’s crazy, but can I give him – and our two sons – some evidence that the “5-second rule” is terrible?  Rosa in Mundelein

Dear Rosa: The 5-second rule was not used in our house; if it fell on the floor it was tossed out. Thank goodness our bodies are made the way they are, because the hydrochloric acid in our stomachs has saved us from many an illness.
There’s good science for this view. Tell your family to listen up:  it's probably not even safe to follow a 1-second rule. The transfer of bacteria from a contaminated surface to food is almost instantaneous - or, at the very least, quicker than human reflexes.

In a recent study, Clemson University food scientist Paul Dawson and students contaminated several surfaces (ceramic tile, wood flooring, and carpet) with Salmonella. They then dropped pieces of bologna and slices of bread on the surfaces for as little as 5 seconds and as long as 60 seconds. After just 5 seconds, both foods had already picked up as many as 1,800 bacteria (more bad bugs adhered to the bologna than the bread). After 60 seconds, it was up to 18,000 bacteria!

There are 76 million cases of foodborne illness annually in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control - so unless you're the only family on the block that sterilizes your floors hourly, stop eating dropped food. "Let's not forget what comes into contact with floors--people bring animal feces on their shoes into their homes," Dawson said.

And don't assume that countertops are clean. Dawson's team also found that the Salmonella actually survived as long as four weeks on the test surfaces.

I am also a stickler about hand washing. Many potential illnesses can be avoided when washing hands with soap and water. Hand washing before meals, after using the restroom, after playing outside, after coughing and blowing your nose, before preparing food and after touching food (such as raw meat) are some of the ways to avoid getting sick.

When Clutter Becomes Hoarding

The Mayo Clinic defines hoarding as "... the excessive collection of items, along with the inability to discard them" and states that "compulsive hoarding and compulsive hoarding syndrome, may be a symptom of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)." We are not talking everyday household mess and clutter here, or collections of specific objects that may, in the opinion of other family members, be taking up too much space in the house.  True hoarding can be a sign of mental and/or physical illness that manifests itself in the obsessive accumulation of things—items that can range from mounds of clothing, unopened shopping bags, stacks of newspapers, magazines and mail, to piles of trash and rotting garbage that are dangerous to the health of an individual or a family.

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Rx for Good Health: Helping Others

It's true - volunteering and helping others in need not only makes a difference in the lives of recipients, it can improve our own mental and physical health and well being. The good feeling we get from lending a helping hand benefits us in a variety of ways:

There is the social aspect of joining with others in our communities, making friends and assisting worthy organizations in achieving their goals.

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Every little bit counts! Recyling facts that may surprise you.


"Going green" by recycling efficiently is something everyone can do to preserve and protect our environment and natural resources.  To drive this fact home, below are some interesting facts about America's consumption of recyclable materials. Statistics from the Clean Air Council include:

  • The average office worker uses about 500 disposable cups a year -- a good incentive to bring your own coffee mug to work!
  • In America we use approximately one billion shopping bags annually -- creating 300,000 tons of landfill waste.
  • During the 2009 annual International Coastal Cleanup, the Ocean Conservancy tallied shopping bags as the most common form of waste, comprising 10% of the waste items picked up.

The City of Mesa, Arizona, also supplies some fascinating stats:

  • Each year we manufacture enough plastic film to shrink wrap the entire state of Texas!
  • Recycling five plastic soda bottles can create enough fiberfill for one ski jacket.
  • Nearly 40% of the U.S. waste stream is comprised of paper.
  • By recycling just two gallons of used oil, enough electricity can be generated to run an average American household for nearly 24 hours.

Take the small steps needed to eliminate the use or  increase the recycling of the common items above.  By simply changing just a few of our daily habits, together we can make a discernible difference in protecting our environment.

Article by Kim Washetas, contributing writer and enthusiastic whole health advocate.

Space Clearing for Better Health - 4 Starter Tips


If you constantly feel disorganized, out of time and overwhelmed, you are probably among the many of us who need some space clearing and de-cluttering at home or work.  Living and working surrounded by unorganized "stuff" can be fuel for the fire of unhealthy stress.  And who needs more stress and anxiety?  Begin by clearing just a counter space, storage area or cluttered corner.  It will generate a great feeling of accomplishment and energize you.  Here a four simple tips to get started: Start small. When a task seems daunting -- like your office, the garage at home or the big closet in the hall -- break it down into manageable chunks.  Set a time limit, schedule it and stick to it.  Book 30 minutes after lunch on Monday to clear your desktop; do the same on Wednesday and Friday, 30 minutes each for the main file drawer, then the storage box in the corner.  Set a manageable pace to finish the room - this stuff's not going anywhere and every bit of headway you make will lighten your load.

Carry something away. Whenever you leave a room, be it your office, your kitchen or the family rec room, take something with you and put it where it really belongs or get rid of it.  Keep it simple:  just one item, every time you leave a room, and you'll be seeing a difference in a matter of days.

Trash junk mail - every day.  Take a quick look, and if it's not something you feel compelled to even open and skim, don't set it aside for later.  Shred it or tear it up, and into the recycle bin it goes.  You may also want to check out options for reducing junk mail by visiting Direct Mail's Facebook page for information  on its "National Do Not Mail List."

Make a Donate box. Pick a box of manageable size and keep it near the exit door.  Whenever you come across something useable and in good repair that you don't need anymore, put it in the box.  Each time the box gets reasonably full (meaning you can still easily carry it), put it in the car and drop it off the next time you go out.  As your de-cluttering becomes habit, you'll become a familiar face at the Goodwill and other local charities.

Give yourself three weeks of using these simple starter tips (they say that's how long it takes to make habits stick), then take a look around and enjoy your cleared space and reduced stress level!

Article by Kim Washetas, contributing writer, enthusiastic whole health advocate - and recovering clutterer.

5 Tips for Stress-Free Winter Holidays


A five-year-old of our acquaintance once offered this gem of advice to his harried mother during the pre-holiday season: "Why don't you just sit down and delax for a while." That sums up our first tip for having a stress-free holiday. Here are a few more:

  • Pick up the phone right now, and schedule yourself for a therapeutic neck and shoulder massage a couple of days before a major holiday gathering. Just knowing that you've set aside some "me time" for yourself will give you something personal and pleasant to look forward to at this hectic time of year.
  • Lower the bar a little. Do you really have to have all the trim in the bathroom painted before Aunt Lois visits? Is it essential to string lights over every piece of foliage in the yard? Is it absolutely necessary to have hand-lettered place cards at the dinner table? If all the "extras" are keeping you up at night and causing your eyes to glaze over, cross them off the list and take those few extra moments to enjoy the anticipation of the holiday season with family or friends.
  • Don't wait until you're at the breaking point to yell for help. Plan with your family and delegate early in the season, especially when it comes to decorating, special cleaning chores or preparing meals. And be willing to let go of some of the tasks you've always done your way; let others try their creative hand at things and simply enjoy the results.
  • Last but not least, make sure you get your sleep in. Instead of feeling that you need to work through the nights to get things done, opt to get to bed at a reasonable time and get up an hour earlier if you must. Having a reasonably good night's rest goes a long way toward a more optimistic view in the morning.

Have a healthy, happy and "delaxing" holiday season!

Article by Kim Washetas, contributing writer and enthusiastic whole health advocate.

Laughter and Health - How They are Interrelated


While you might think that you need to see many doctors and take many medications in order to remain healthy, researchers now believe that laughter is actually the best medicine and the best way to stay healthy. Laughing can relax the body and reduce the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, strokes, arthritis, and other serious illnesses. It can rid the body of negative emotions -such as stress, anger, anxiety, and depression, which have all been proven to lead to heart disease. Some other benefits are:

  1. Laughter can help lower blood pressure. Research has shown that people who laugh on a regular basis tend to have lower blood pressure than the average person. When laughing, breathing becomes heavier and this sends more oxygen through the body. This allows for blood pressure to rise when laughing and then fall to levels below normal after laughing.
  2. A good laugh can actually be equivalent to a good workout. Laughing can work out your diaphragm, respiratory, back, leg, and facial muscles. It also is a great way to boost your heart rate and increase digestion. Researchers believe that a good laugh can burn approximately the same number of calories as riding an exercise bike for a few minutes. One study concluded that laughing for 10-15 minutes can burn about 50 calories.
  3. Laughter can change the biochemical makeup of the body. It will decrease the amount of stress hormones that the body is releasing, while increasing beneficial infection-fighting antibodies.
  4. While relieving stress, laughter can also help improve brain functioning. Since the body is producing less stress-causing hormones, the muscles in the brain relax. This allows the brain to become more alert and retain more information.
  5. Finally, laughing can protect the heart from heart attacks. Research has shown that people with heart disease laugh approximately 40% less than people without heart disease.

In order to gain the benefits of laughter, it is important to allow yourself time to laugh every day. For example, watch comedy TV, listen to comedy when driving, and make friends with funny people. You should understand that humor is good, so don't take life and yourself so seriously! Be sure to laugh at yourself and have fun!

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Chicken Soup is Good for Body and Soul

Though spring is officially here, the unseasonable weather we're having recently may contribute to the lingering of the viruses that more typically cause wintertime's sneezes, sniffles and colds.  There are a number of ways to help speed them on their way. Foods high in Vitamin C are great  for helping to fight off a virus and chicken soup is also high on the list. It actually does help - it's a comfort food that's good for the soul and for making you feel better when you have a cold. It also contains nourishment in the form of protein and vegetables to fuel your body's immune system and replenish your resources.

Plenty of fluids (water is first on the list, and orange juice and green or herbal teas are also good choices) help to thin secretions and make them easier to expel.  If you're experiencing fever as well, it's very important to drink large amounts of fluids to avoid becoming dehydrated.

Regardless of whether you have a cold or a fever, rest is the order of the day until it has run it's course - and make sure you wash your hands frequently to keep germs from spreading.

Copyright © Christine Hammerlund – 2011. Christine Hammerlund is a registered nurse and the owner of Assured Healthcare, a healthcare staffing service headquartered in Gurnee, Illinois.

Hiccups Making You Crazy? Try These Tricks.

Most cases of hiccups are generally believed to be a reflex action of your body, which can be caused when the vagus nerve (which runs from the brain to the abdomen) or one of its branches is irritated. If you regularly suffer from hiccups (and they always seem to manifest when you least expect them), you may have been told you can cure them by swallowing sugar. Some people also swear by the stick-your-fingers-in-your-ears technique. Believe it or not, some of these seemingly goofy "cures" can prove to be helpful, and here are some of the reasons why they may work:

Taking a spoonful of sugar overloads the nerve endings in the mouth and sticking your fingers into your ears stimulates the vagus nerve, which can help to stop the hiccups. There are several other tricks that you can try.

Disrupting the hiccups cycle is sometimes effective, so if you are startled the element of surprise could serve the purpose; gulping water can also interrupt the cycle of hiccups. Sticking out your tongue and pulling on it could also be effective. A cotton swab to the roof of your mouth or having someone tickle you are two ideas that may also help.

Another treatment variation includes holding your breath for as long as possible or breathing into a paper bag. This increases the of level carbon dioxide in your bloodstream and may make the body "forget" the hiccups.

Two final tips: If you are a fast eater, slow down and don't overload your stomach. Avoiding overly spicy foods and excess alcohol can also reduce the incidence of hiccups.

If you suffer regularly from hiccups or are having a prolonged bout, consult a healthcare professional to make sure there are not more serious underlying issues causing the problem.

Copyright © Christine Hammerlund – 2011. Christine Hammerlund is a registered nurse and the owner of Assured Healthcare, a healthcare staffing service headquartered in Gurnee, Illinois.

Can Mom's Voice Heal?


Sometimes science eventually gets around to proving what every sort of knows intuitively. Though research is still in its early stages, it turns out that moms can be one of the great cures for what ails a child. Researchers at Northwestern University are testing whether a mother’s voice can pierce through a coma.  There, voices of family and friends are recorded and then played back to the brain-injured patients through headphones several times a day.

One of those patients, Ryan Schroeder, a 21-year-old college student, was in a coma after being flung from snowmobile into a tree. He started to respond to external stimuli after three weeks of hearing his mother’s voice played over and over.

Coincidence? We’ll see. But a year later, Schroeder is walking with assistance, texting friends and brushing his own teeth.

Lead researcher Theresa Pape, an assistant professor of medicine at Northwestern University, suspects repeated exposure to the voices of loved ones could help regenerate the brain’s neural networks. MRI scans of coma patients reveal that parts of the brain light up when they hear family members, but not for unfamiliar voices. 

The new research shows how potent the sound of a familiar voice can be, says Helen Fisher, an anthropologist with Rutgers University in New Jersey and author of “Why Him? Why Her?”.

“It shows why it’s important to have people in our lives that we can call, who will calm us and get our cortisol levels down,” Fisher said.

Ultimately, the study confirms something we instinctively knew all along, Fisher says: “When we call someone we love, we feel better.”   Researchers  from the University of Wisconsin asked 61 girls and their moms to take part in an experiment to determine whether a voice could be as comforting as physical hugs and kisses. The girls, ages 7 to 12, were instructed to give a talk and then solve some math problems in front of a panel of judges. The situation figured to make any kid’s heart pound and blood pressure rise.

Before the girls gave their performances, the researchers measured the levels of two important and powerful hormones: oxytocin and cortisol. Cortisol is a hormone that spikes during times of stress. Oxytocin is the bonding, or so-called “love,” hormone.

“It’s generally been assumed that there has to be physical contact for oxytocin to released,” said study co-author Seth Pollak, a professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin. “We were curious what would happen if the contact was only by phone.”

After their math tests, the girls were sent to one of three rooms. In one, moms were waiting with hugs and kisses and warm reassurances of the girls’ success. “The moms came in and hugged the girls and stroked their hair,” Pollak said. “They’d reassure their daughters with words like ‘I’m sure you did fine. You always perform so well.’ ”

In another room, girls received phone calls from their mothers with verbal reassurances similar to those heard by the first group. A third group of girls didn’t meet up with their moms but were sent to watch the heart-warming movie “March of the Penguins.”

When the researchers later measured hormone levels, they found, not surprisingly, oxytocin rose and cortisol fell in girls who had been in physical contact with their mothers. What was surprising was that the behavior of the hormones was almost identical in girls who had only spoken to their mothers on the phone.

Of course, the study studies relationships, not necessarily love. Pollak allows that when relationships are more complicated and there is tension involved, mom’s voice might not be so soothing.

Pollak says he’d like to explore the effects of a mom’s voice in those complicated relationships in future research.

Copyright © Christine Hammerlund – 2010.Christine Hammerlund is a registered nurse and the owner of Assured Healthcare, a healthcare staffing service headquartered in Gurnee, Illinois.

Nurses know things about health and disease that they wish they didn’t.


Sometimes being a nurse isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Mostly by that I mean that you find out things you wish you didn’t have to know. And once you learn it, the idea sticks in our brain like flypaper.

So, here are five things I wish I didn’t know. But I do know them anyway.

  1. Women whose index fingers are shorter than their ring fingers may be twice as prone to osteoarthritis in the knees. Those with this predominately male characteristic tend to have lower levels of estrogen, which may also play a role in the development of osteoarthritis. You can attack this issue by strengthening the muscles surrounding your knees. While sitting, straighten each leg parallel to the floor 10 times; hold each rep for 5 to 10 seconds.
  2. I really hate this one. Linear wrinkles in one or both lobes may predict future cardiovascular events (heart attack, bypass surgery, or cardiac death.) A crease on one lobe raises the risk by 33 percent; a crease on both lobes increases it by 77 percent. Why? Who knows for sure? Maybe a loss of elastic fibers causes both the crease and the hardening of arteries.
  3. If your legs are on the stocky side, take better care of your liver. Women with legs between 20 and 29 inches tend to have higher levels of four enzymes that indicate liver disease. Avoid exposure to toxins your liver has to process, which will keep it healthier, longer. Wear a mask and gloves while cleaning or working with any type of harsh chemical.
  4. Older adults who couldn’t identify the scent of bananas, lemons, cinnamon, or other items were five times more likely to develop Parkinson’s disease within 4 years. The area of the brain responsible for olfactory function may be one of the first affected by Parkinson’s disease—somewhere between 2 and 7 years prior to diagnosis. Take fish oil supplements. Omega-3 fatty acids can boost your brain’s resistance to MPTP, a toxic compound responsible for Parkinson’s.
  5. Have a hard time touching your toes? Women with the shortest arm spans are 1 1/2 times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than those with longer reaches. (Find yours by spreading your arms parallel to the floor and having someone measure fingertips to fingertips; the shortest spans were less than 60 inches. There’s an answer. Put your appendages to good use with a hobby such as painting or pottery. Adults who spend the most time engaged in engaging leisure activities are more than 2.5 times less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than those who spent less time challenging their brains.

Copyright © Christine Hammerlund – 2010.Christine Hammerlund is a registered nurse and the owner of Assured Healthcare, a healthcare staffing service headquartered in Gurnee, Illinois.