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.

Ask The Nurse: How Can We Improve Our Approach to Healthcare?

improving healthcare

Dear Nurse Chris: I am watching the national debate on health care very closely and wondering what would really make a difference in how healthy we all are? What’s your prescription for how to change the system to do a better job? Marcy in Hinsdale

Dear Marcy: Your question shows one of the problems with our system. We are an “illness-treating-nation” that wants to avoid being sick, but we’re not always as focused on staying well. This is not just a semantic word game.

I definitely think that the biggest improvement in healthcare would be keeping people healthy as opposed to treating their illness.

It’s not as if the way we do health care is the only proven method.  In China, people go to the doctor to stay well, and when they become ill they fire their doctor and find a new one who will keep them healthy.

In the United States, we go to the doctor to get well by fixing what is wrong.
Americans think in terms of mechanisms being repaired, like a car with a bad carburetor.  We tend to pay less attention to how to keep the car running perfectly before something goes wrong. Plus, every serious study about why things cost so much in our health system always goes back to the lack of preventive care. Fixing 300 million carburetors after they break can be very expensive.

I like the Chinese way of thinking.

The medicine that is practiced here is really focused on treating symptoms as opposed to preventing the illness. There is an American mindset that we should be able to take a pill and feel better.  All too often there are many things a person can do to improve health but it takes focus and commitment.

Ask the Nurse: To Detox or Not to Detox

Detox advice

Dear Nurse Chris: I see all these television and newspaper advertisements for colon “detox” products. It seems to make sense what we clean out the toxins in our systems every once in a while. But are they safe and do they actually work? Nancy in Arlington Heights.

Dear Nancy:  In shorthand, the answers are probably no and even more probably no.

Remember what your mom used to say about not believing everything you hear or read?  Well, the same goes for believing what you are being told by TV advertisements is good medicine for you.

The worst medicine is the kind that “seems” to be true but for which there is no evidence. “Colon cleansers” are a big business but there’s not much evidence they work and because most are herbal-based, the government doesn’t regulate them the same as they do for other medicine. So it’s not even sure they’re safe.

First, “colon cleansing” doesn’t really address how the body works.  Fecal matter and toxins— parasites, pesticides, or chemicals—do not accumulate and stick to the colon wall, causing assorted ailments. In fact, fecal matter does not cling to the colon wall, and experts have found no evidence that toxins build up there. Richard Harkness, a consultant pharmacist and author of five books on evidence-based natural medicine, backs natural treatments, but he’s dead set against this one.

He says colon cleansing itself carries health risks, including side effects from questionable ingredients, dehydration, impaired bowel function, and disruption of normal, protective intestinal flora. Some laxatives can even worsen heart failure or cause kidney failure, while colonic irrigation or enemas could tear the rectum. Steer clear of all of these. Your body detoxifies itself perfectly well, thanks to your kidneys and liver. True, you may “feel” better after one of these cleansings but it’s because you stuffed yourself with junk food and are now eating better.

The best advice I can give is do some research on the product that you have seen advertised. When you use an Internet search engine for the product, always include the word “scam.” That will tell you what customers are saying
Talk to your doctor. In most cases I advise people to talk to their pharmacists because they have the most current information about the latest things to hit the market. I hesitate to encourage research on the web unless you go to reliable health care sites that have good, solid medical advice.

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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