What temperature kills germs? How to use heat properly to get rid of bacteria and viruses

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  • Hot temperatures can kill most germs — usually at least 140 degrees Fahrenheit. 
  • Most bacteria thrive at 40 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit, which is why it’s important to keep food refrigerated or cook it at high temperatures. 
  • Freezing temperatures don’t kill germs, but it makes them dormant until they are thawed. 

NOTE – This article was medically reviewed by Tania Elliott, MD, who specializes in infectious diseases related to allergies and immunology for internal medicine at NYU Langone Health

Germs — like viruses, bacteria, and fungus — respond differently to cold and hot temperatures. For example, the flu virus thrives in colder weather, which is why flu season is in the winter. 

In general, hot temperatures are better suited to killing germs, but that doesn’t mean you should start sterilizing everything with heat. “It’s not realistic or necessary,” says Manish Trivedi, director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at AtlantiCare. “The most effective intervention to prevent the spread of germs is proper hand-washing.”

In fact, for the COVID-19 virus, the World Health Organization (WHO) warns against using temperature methods to ‘prevent’ or ‘kill’ infection: spending time in cold weather or snow, taking a hot bath, using hot hand dryers, or ultraviolet lamps has no effect on this new Coronavirus strain.

But there are other cases where high temperatures can kill germs — boiling water to kill off bacteria in food products, using a dishwasher to sterilize plates, or washing and drying clothes to decontaminate them.

Here’s what you need to know …

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