Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Do you really know what's cooking in your kitchen?

While bathrooms get a bad rap when it comes to germs, it's the kitchen that actually harbors more bacteria than any other room in the home. The worst offender in the kitchen? The kitchen sponge or dishcloth, where bacteria festers in the damp, nurturing environment. The next worst offender is your kitchen sink. The bacteria that lurks all throughout your kitchen are the same ones that can cause a cold or flu to spread through a household like wildfire. A striking statistic from MSN Health and Fitness states that "50 to 80% of all food-borne illnesses originate in the home. Food-borne pathogens cause 6.5 million cases of gastroenteritis and 9,000 deaths per year. 20% of food-poisoning cases are blamed on home contamination, more than any other source."

Still not concerned? Consider this: One single bacteria cell can become more than 8 million cells in less than 24 hours! The number of bacteria it takes to make people sick can range from as few as 10 up to millions. And infections spread when germs are transferred from a contaminated item (say, your cutting board) to your hands to your body.

So let’s talk about the SPONGE - Bacteria colonies with a total population exceeding 50 million can live on a single dirty sponge making kitchen sponges the No. 1 source of germs in the whole house. The moist, micro-crevices that make a sponge such an effective cleaning device also make it a cozy home for germs and more difficult to disinfect. Now think about all the places you use that sponge in your kitchen – scrubbing your sink, counters, inside the microwave, cutting boards, stovetop, knobs, handles. All the while, transferring the bacteria from one place to the next. A study performed by Professor Charles Gerba at the University of Arizona revealed that “one out of five sponges had salmonella bacteria, which can cause food poisoning, gastrointestinal inflammations, typhoid fever, and other maladies.” And if that doesn’t gross you out enough – 20% of the coffee cups that Gerba tested were oozing with fecal bacteria from raw meat, thanks to the sponges that supposedly cleaned them. Holy YUCK!
But what about a dishcloth or a scrub brush? Sadly they too are magnets for bacteria. Any sort of moist environment is a breeding ground for germs. From what I could find there isn’t any scientific research done on which one is the BEST but I could only conclude that a scrub brush would be the least infested. The dishcloth and the sponge are much more porous and take longer to dry out whereas the bristles have room to breathe and will dry out faster.

So how often should you replace your sponge? I recommend replacing your sponge every month. Signs that your sponge should be replaced immediately, regardless of the time elapsed since the last replacement, include musty or unpleasant odors and a sponge that is beginning to disintegrate. I also personally have 2 sponges on hand – one for cleaning the sink and one for cleaning the dishes. I always buy the mega 18-pack of Scotch-Brite Non-Scratch from Costco so I never run out of sponges. (Tip: Always buy the NON-scratch sponges. They are just as effective and won't scratch stainless, stovetops, etc). As an easy reminder, I personally change my sponges every 15th and every 30th of every month. In the meantime, I make sure I clean my sponges every week. I’ll either 1) Wet the sponge and then pop it in the microwave for one to two minutes to eliminate the germs that lurk inside the crevices. *Make sure it’s wet or else you’ll burn your sponge or 2) Throw it in the dishwasher. *Make sure your water temperature is super hot or else the bacteria will not be killed. They say that the dishwasher needs to reach 155 degrees Fahrenheit, in order to kill the germs.

Moving onto the KITCHEN SINK – Do this…go take off the black rubber cover that fits tightly in the drain hole. Be prepared however to be grossed out. Most likely the underside is goopy, slimy and infested with bacteria. Now look at the underside of the metal drain stopper. Again, probably in need of a serious sanitizing session. Grossly, there are typically more than 500,000 bacteria per square inch in the drain alone. Let’s think back to last night - After cutting the meat what did you do with the cutting board? Most likely you probably laid the cutting board (that has about 200% more fecal bacteria than the average toilet seat) in the sink. But how did you wash out the sink basin after that? Probably with a quick rinse of water. Out of sight, out of mind right? Sadly, no. That bacteria, unless scrubbed away by an antibacterial solution or bleach, will linger in your kitchen sink and multiply. Have you ever reached into your sink to re-use a glass that was barely used earlier? News flash – DON’T. I encourage you to grab for a new glass every time! If it’s been sitting in your sink for even a short period of time, it could be swarmed with hundreds of thousands of bacteria.
Naturally the place where you clean the dishes that you eat off, should be spic and span. This is proving to us that it's anything but. So where do you start? Always, always, always, clean your kitchen counters, sink, and faucets with an antibacterial product after preparing or cleansing food, especially raw fruits, vegetables and meats, which carry lots of potential pathogens like salmonella, campylobacter and E. coli. After dinner regardless of what I cook, I always do a wipe down inside the sink basin with Lysol’s Antibacterial Kitchen Cleaner in Citrus Scent. It can kill 99.9 % of germs and is great on non-porous surfaces. During the day, I’ll use the Kirkland Signature Disinfectant Wipes on the refrigerator door handles, stove knobs or cupboard pulls. Getting down in the drain once a week with bleach and an old toothbrush is another habit you should really get into to keep that moist hideaway germ-free.

So what is the most sanitary way to keep your kitchen clean of that deadly, invisible bacteria?

1) Always wash your hands.
2) Keep the Disinfectant Wipes and Anti-bacterial cleaner handy under the kitchen sink for routine wipe downs of faucets, countertops and inside the sink. Get in the habit nightly of taking two minutes after you do the dishes to scrub down the sink.
3) For a quick cleanup of spills, the most sanitary method is a strong paper towel. Use and toss.
4) Opt to use paper towels instead of a communal hand towel on your hands and counter tops. Hand towels are also save havens for germs.
5) If you’re going to use a sponge, let it dry out before putting it away, wash weekly and replace every month if not sooner.
6) If you’re going to opt for a dishcloth, lay it flat so it can dry out and wash daily.
7) If you prefer a scrub brush, lay on its side after use to let bristles dry, wash in dishwasher weekly and replace every 1-3 months.
8) Do not allow dishes to sit in the sink for long periods of time unless you want E.Coli to pay a visit.

I’ll leave you with this extremely disgusting but very true quote from Professor Charles P. Gerba of the University of Arizona Department of Soil, Water and Environmental Science – “If an alien came from space and studied the bacterial counts, he probably would conclude he should wash his hands in your toilet and crap in your sink.”

1 comment:

  1. Thank you. Your info was most informative. The clearest and well presented I have been. My roommates just don't get it. I have posted your article in the kitchen. Hope it gets through to them.