Stressed Over Germs? The Housewares Industry Wants to Help!
WaPo takes a look at some consumer products designed to help us spot and kill germs at the daily-life level -- things like toothbrush sanitizers and food-freshness strips. These products were recently showcased in Chicago at the huge trade show of the International Housewares Association.
"It's getting scarier out there for a lot of people. We've heard about anthrax and mad cow disease and all the mold contamination in the Katrina states," says Lisa Casey Weiss, lifestyle consultant for the International Housewares Association. "The home is where people used to feel protected from those outside influences. Now, we are grasping for those products that enable us to get a better sense of self-protection."Some of these products are of dubious utility, but represent eager attempt to mollify -- and profit from -- the increasing fear of infection:
Some marketers like to throw around scary words and phrases, such as SARS and avian flu. In fact, as you walk down the packed aisles of 50,000 products at the housewares show in the McCormick Place Convention Center, your gaze catches anxiously on a rack of fliers at the M.E. Heuck Co. booth with the jaw-dropping headline "Avian Flu Poultry Timers."
According to health officials, the dreaded bird flu virus has not been found in the United States. The Ohio company hoped to attract the attention of buyers in Asia and Europe, areas where pop-up chicken and turkey timers are virtually unknown and where cases of bird flu have been confirmed. In some European countries, such as France and Italy, consumption of chicken has plummeted because of fears of the deadly disease.
Steve Johnson, senior vice president at Heuck, acknowledges that he has seen no evidence from public health officials that someone could get the disease from eating infected poultry or eggs. Health experts say that cooking chicken to an internal temperature of 170-180 degrees Fahrenheit would kill any virus. Johnson says sales of Heuck disposable pop-up timers in England are soaring, from only 10,000 sold last year to well over 1 million this year. He says the avian flu sales pitch is "just to call attention to the fact" that cooking to the proper temperature "would kill the virus if it was in there."
Jaedene R. Levy, a Washington psychotherapist, says the current fear factor goes back to 9/11, when many people experienced a loss of control. "We realized there is nothing we can do about terrorism. But what we can do is control some things in our homes," says Levy.