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How Clean is too Clean? Science tells all.

How Clean is too Clean? Science tells all.

Apr 26, 2020


Jennifer Stuchell

In the food industry, we're held to high standards for sanitation, and rightfully so. We're serving the public scratch-made meals and need to prevent things like cross-contamination, outside germs entering the workspace, and decrease the risk of food-borne illness.

Disease-causing microbes and pathogens contaminates foods and can cause different diseases in humans and animals. In fact, most animal foods are actually the carriers of food-borne pathogens such as E-coli and Listeria. This is why it's so important to not only sanitize surfaces and kitchen tools between handling different food products, but also ensuring food products are being cooked to the proper temperature to kill off unwanted pathogens. 

The big agriculture industry has introduced more pathogens into our food sources because of the way animals are treated and raised on their farms. Many cows, for example, are pumped with antibiotics in order to keep them alive for additional feedings to "plump them up" before slaughter. These animals are sick and then we eat them. This sickness is typically derived from a bacteria/pathogen and that sick cow is now on our grocery list. As you would suspect, this is not a good source of nutrition. This is why eating reputable sources of animal products is extremely important. 

How clean is too clean?

I hear many of my friends, and even our parents, joke around about the "unsanitary" things we did as kids, yet we're still alive and well. Many scientists agree that being exposed to germs, particularly at a young age, is very beneficial to our immune system. Over-sterilized environments can hurt us later down the road, in fact. While some germs are very bad, not all germs are bad.

Did you know that we are made up of more bacteria than human cells? We actually have 10X the amount of non-human cells than human cells. This is needed for a healthy microbiome and gut, which is also called our "second brain". 

Professor Gilbert, the director of the Microbiome Centre at the University of Chicago, claims that hand sanitizer is more damaging to a child’s health than soapy water. According to Prof Gilbert, "children's immune systems were more healthy and robust than they are today because of more relaxed attitudes to germs. He explains that more fermented foods which contain bacteria, enable children higher exposure to animals, plants and soil more often."

We strengthen our immune system being exposed to low-risk germs. Even experts at John Hopkins Medicine agree that new-borns exposed to dirt, dander, and germs may have lower allergy and asthma risk


  • Newborns exposed to household germs, pet and rodent dander and roach allergens during their first year of life appear to have lower risk of developing asthma and allergies.
  • The researchers note, however, that the protective effects of these exposures disappear when infants encounter these substances after their first year.
  • The findings are consistent with the so-called hygiene hypothesis, which states that children who grow up in too-clean environments may develop hypersensitive immune systems that make them prone to allergies.

"Obviously raw meat should be treated carefully. But in a home where no-one is presently sick there is virtually no risk to children's health. Indeed, if it were not so unpalatable, poop is generally harmless", notes Professor Gilbert.

Ew! But ok...

Further, Stanford University notes that healthy immune systems of adults 'remember' germs to which they've never been exposed. The mostly harmless germs and bacteria we're exposed to as children through food, soil, and on our skin actually help us later in life.

You know we should be eating local, BUT did you know for this reason?!

Just looking at the soil where our food is grown, we can see some huge changes come the start of the industrial agriculture movement. Practically all the produce you buy at grocery stores are monocrops. This is the practice of growing the same product year-after-year on the same land. This greatly reduces the harmless (and as we're learning, healthy) microbiomes in the soil, therefore limiting how healthy our guts can become and reducing the exposure to these healthy germs as young children. Reusing the same land, instead of rotating three or four crops, can actually lead to plant pathogens and disease, because the soil is missing an array of microbiome life that comes from crop rotation, and therefore developing plant health.

Not only does monocropping reduce the about of microbiomes in our food systems that are needed for healthy immune systems, monocropping destroys the land, increasing erosion. In fact, the Earth’s soil is depleting at more than 13 percent the rate at which it can be replaced. which is scary because approximately 75 percent of the world’s crop varieties have been lost over the last 100 years as the result.

The soil is also depleted of vital nutrients, such as B12. This is a big reason why store-bought produce doesn't provide B12 for our diets any longer. We are told we must get B12 from animal products or supplementation, because the microbiomes that create B12 no longer exist at a level useful for human diets. According to MIT biologists, Vitamin B12 is produced by soil microbes that live in symbiotic relationships with plant roots. When you ruin that relationship, due to monocropping and chemicals such as pesticides and others, you deplete the soil of life-giving nutrients and microbiomes. 


What kind of food system do you support?

When you eat food grown on smaller farms and closer to home, you have a higher chance of supporting a food system that is better for your health and the environment. Take one of Spokane's local Ace of Spades Farm, for example. They don't use tillage, synthetic fertilizers, and ensure a nutrient-dense living soil that is microbial-dense - the healthy "bacteria" our bodies need to survive and overcome. 

So, in a time where sanitizing is at an all-time high, remember the benefits of healthy bacteria and exposure to dirt. And as Professor Gilbert claims (director of the Microbiome Centre at the University of Chicago), 

“Most parents think all germs are bad, that is not true. Most will just stimulate your immune system and make you stronger." 

How to increase your immunity:

  1. Eat more REAL FOOD grown in LIVING soil (buy closer to home, from local small farms, grow your own food)
  2. Increase healthy gut bacteria: eat fermented foods, play in the dirt, eat fresh fruits and vegetables, decrease sugar and processed snacks
  3. Eat humanly-raised and non-antibiotic animal products
  4. Play in the dirt
  5. Exercise 30 minutes, daily

Check out all our local Spokane Farmer's Markets!

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