By Jessica Franklin
Every person with a school-aged child knows that the back to school season is often shortly followed by the start of a new cold and flu season. Children are once again going to be in close quarters with 20–30 of their peers and all the germs they bring with them! But have you considered that they might just be carrying those germs to and from home with them compliments of their backpacks, lunchboxes and water bottles?
Consider a day in the life of a backpack. Heading out the door, the backpack almost immediately gets set on the ground waiting for the bus in the morning. Once on the bus, it likely gets set down again, but on a floor that is routinely subjected to dirty shoes and all sorts of spills. Upon arrival at school, your child might make a stop in the restroom and set his backpack on the floor near the toilet, right in the splash zone! Once in the classroom, the backpack finally gets some relief and is hung, but right next to it is another backpack that has had a similar morning, and possibly came from a home already battling a virus!
Simply setting a backpack down on a restroom floor exposes it to tens of thousands of individual bacteria and viruses, predominantly Staphylococcus bacteria and the herpes virus, according to a study published in Applied and Environmental Microbiology. I will admit that it does not occur to me to wash a bag or backpack unless I see a visible stain on it. However, it should be emptied out and added to your laundry on a weekly basis to rid it of the countless germs it picks up through the course of a week. But what about the bag inside the bag? Your child’s lunchbox is another ideal place for germs to thrive!
If your child brings lunch from home, you need to consider the germs that can breed in his lunchbox, like staph and E. coli. While one of the most important things to remember is thoroughly cleaning the lunchbox at the end of the day using either warm water and soap or vinegar and leave open to air-dry overnight, keeping a lunchbox safe from the threat of harmful germs and bacteria starts at home! Be sure to thoroughly wash your hands before packing a lunch. Additionally, avoid using your cellphone and other electronic devices while preparing a lunch as these contain an alarming amount of germs on them such as staph and Pseudomonas, according to a study published in the journal Germs. The final step to at-home prevention of lunchbox germs is ensuring there are two cold sources such as a gel pack and a frozen water bottle to prevent food from warming and spoiling.
Water bottles are another battleground for germs, especially if the user is battling a contagious illness such as influenza or the common cold, but the good news is that they are the easiest with which to deal. If the water bottle is a reusable bottle, it should be washed daily by completely taking apart the various pieces and cleaning each one individually. If your bottle says it is BPA free, it generally is top rack safe in the dishwasher. However, if your water bottle does not specifically say BPA free, you will want to hand wash your bottle as constant exposure to high heat in a dishwasher could leech harmful chemicals out of the bottle and into your child’s water.
While commercial products come with a reasonable degree of certainty as to their effectiveness, if you prefer to stay away from chemicals you can wash your bottle in a solution of white vinegar and water! You can also add a few drops of your favorite essential oils; there are many that have antibacterial properties such as cinnamon, thyme, oregano and tea tree.
Hopefully by following the above guidelines, you can help stop cold and flu germs in their tracks and keep your house a healthy one this season!
Be sure to refer to manufacturer guidelines for specific washing instructions!