Why do our cleaning products fail us? Experts explain recent withdrawals

Why do our cleaning products fail us? Experts explain recent withdrawals

It's a reasonable assumption that your cleaning products will help protect you from bacteria and viruses that can make you sick. But a recent series of recalls about cleaning supplies has many people questioning this basic concept.

Colgate-Palmolive recalls nearly 5 million units of its Fabuloso multi-purpose cleaner due to a risk of exposure to a type of bacteria called pseudomonas. The recall notice from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) mentions the dangers of Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Pseudomonas fluorescens, organisms found in soil and water. "People with compromised immune systems, external medical devices, or underlying lung conditions exposed to the bacteria are at risk for serious infections that may require medical treatment," the recall notice read. "The bacteria can enter the body if inhaled, through the eyes, or an incision in the skin." (People with healthy immune systems are not usually affected by the bacteria, notes the CPSC.)

This is the same bacteria that prompted Laundress's recall of cleaning products in November. The company noted that an internal investigation found "possible elevated levels of bacteria," including "several different types of Pseudomonas," in some of its products, leading the company to ask customers to stop using all of its — including household products. Cleaning sprays and laundry detergents - right away.

But bacteria...in cleaning supplies? Here's what you need to know about pseudomonas, its effect on your health, and how the bacteria can end up in cleaning products.

What is pseudomonas exactly?

At the most basic level, "pseudomonas is a genus of bacteria that circulate in the environment and cause various infections, ranging from pneumonia to infections of the bloodstream," Dr. Amish Adalja, an infectious disease expert and senior research fellow at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security, tells Yahoo Live. Pseudomonas is commonly found in soil and water, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The most common type that affects humans is Pseudomonas aeruginosa, which can lead to infections in the blood, lungs, or other body parts says the CDC. The agency notes that Pseudomonas is constantly looking for new ways to avoid the antibiotics used to treat the infections it causes.

How does Pseudomonas affect your health?

If you're a healthy person, pseudoscience is unlikely to do much for you, Dr. Thomas Russo, professor and chair of the division of infectious diseases at the University at Buffalo in New York, tells Yahoo Live. "They fall into the category of vulnerable bacteria," he says. "If you're a healthy host, it usually causes things like swimmer's ear and hot tub folliculitis [a skin infection]. It doesn't cause many infections by itself."

But pseudomonas is more of a concern if you're immunocompromised. "Then, they may be able to cause more serious infections," Russo says. According to the CDC, people who develop Pseudomonas infections are often exposed to the bacteria in healthcare settings, such as hospitals or nursing homes, and drug-resistant Pseudomonas is particularly dangerous. In 2017, multidrug-resistant Pseudomonas aeruginosa caused an estimated 32,600 infections in hospitalized patients in the United States and an estimated 2,700 deaths, according to the CDC.

Again, it can cause serious infections in the blood, lungs (such as pneumonia), or other body parts. "Some of these bacteria are extraordinarily resistant to antibiotics," Russo says. "When they cause these infections, they can be difficult to treat."

How can false positives end up in cleaning products?

It seems strange that pseudomonas can thrive in products that kill bacteria and viruses, but that doesn't shock experts. "These bacteria grow in the soil, so they're very good at living in strange conditions," Jamie Allan, assistant professor of pharmacology and toxicology at Michigan State University, told Yahoo Life.

Pseudomonas is also a "fairly common bacterium," Allan says, noting that she's seen it pop up in public places like showers. Contamination in cleaning products "most likely occurs during the manufacturing process," Adalja explains. In the case of the Fabuloso recall, Colgate-Palmolive said insufficient preservative levels that could have killed the bacteria were added. Adalja says this "allowed bacteria to grow."

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