May 24, 2024

Americans Using Bleach and Disinfectants Improperly, According to CDC

According to a study published in the CDC’s Weekly Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report for June 5, 2020, many Americans are using bleach and disinfectants improperly during the coronavirus pandemic. Calls to poison centers regarding exposure to cleaners and disinfectants have increased during the pandemic.

Americans Using Bleach and Disinfectants Improperly, According to CDC

An internet panel survey found gaps in knowledge about the safe preparation, use, and storage of cleaners, bleaches, and disinfectants. One of the most striking items in the survey is that about 19% of American adults have used bleach to clean food.

Overall, 39% of U.S. adults engaged in at least one high risk practice including washing food with bleach: they also said they applied household cleaning or disinfectant products to bare skin, or intentionally inhaled or ingested these products by gargling with them or drinking them.  Overall, survey participants had “limited knowledge of safe preparation of cleaning and disinfectant solutions.”

Only 35% knew that bleach should not be mixed with vinegar, and 58% knew that bleach should not be mixed with ammonia. Sixty-eight percent knew that handwashing is recommended after using cleaners and disinfectants, and 73% knew that those products should be used with adequate ventilation.

Mixing bleach solutions with vinegar or ammonia can generate chlorine and chloramine gases that can cause severe lung damage when inhaled. Inhaling or ingesting these products can cause severe tissue damage and corrosive injury. Using bleach to clean food can result in the accidental ingestion of the product, which can cause tissue damage. Bleach can seep into the food and may not be rinsed or completely wiped off.

Most respondents claimed they knew how to use these products safely, despite knowledge gaps and high risk practices. Public health agencies have a mandate to target information about these products and their safe use with innovative communication strategies.

The best way to protect yourself against coronavirus and foodborne illness is to clean thoroughly using products properly. Always wash your hands with soap and water before and after handling food, disinfect countertops and work surfaces with a mild bleach solution and then rinsing, and cook food to safe final internal temperatures.

The median age of respondents was 46 years. Fifty-two percent of respondents were female. The respondents represented all U.S. Census regions, with 38% from the South, 24% from the West, 21% from the Midwest, and 18% from the Northeast.

Gharpure R, Hunter CM, Schnall AH, et al. Knowledge and Practices Regarding Safe Household Cleaning and Disinfection for COVID-19 Prevention — United States, May 2020. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. ePub: 5 June 2020. DOI: icon.

Image courtesy CDC

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