If there’s one place in your home that you want to believe is spotlessly clean it’s the kitchen. After all it’s where you prepare your food, and the last place you want to think of germs lurking. But the truth is it’s one of the two most bacteria contaminated rooms in the average home, only playing second fiddle to the bathroom.
I get it, no one wants to think about germs crawling around their kitchen, but stay with me here. Because knowing where these ugly bugs are most likely to hide out can help you purge them from your kitchen, and keep them from coming back.
Your kitchen towel is a likely harboring all kinds of bacteria, including the ones that like to hitch rides in our food and make us sick. And no matter how careful you think you are, cross contamination can happen in the blink of the eye.
Picture this. You’re preparing a roasted chicken for dinner and the phone rings. You grab the kitchen towel to dry your hands and the bacteria gets transferred to the towel where it hunkers down, multiplies and lays in wait. The next morning when you grab the same towel while fixing bacon and eggs for breakfast you transfer the bug to your morning meal.
It’s a common scenario. In fact, when researchers did a test to figure out how easily this kind of cross-contamination can occur, even they were stunned. When 123 volunteers prepared a chicken or ground beef recipe and a fruit salad they found that a test bacteria made the leap from the meat dishes to the fruit salad in 90 percent of the cases.1
After using a kitchen towel don’t just hang it on the sink or stove to dry. Instead toss it in the washing machine. Regularly launder your kitchen towels with hot water and bleach. And consider switching to one-time-use paper towels for some jobs like drying your hands and wiping down counters, especially when working with meat, egg and dairy dishes.
The kitchen sink:
The kitchen sink is a hotbed of bacteria. And it’s really no wonder since sinks tend to be moist most of the time and typically contain food particles left on dishes, the sides of the sink and within the drain.
In fact, one study found that the only place in the average home that contained more bacteria than the kitchen sink, at around 567,845 bacteria per square inch, was the bathroom toilet at 3.2 million bacteria.2 In a second study researchers found that 46 percent of kitchen sinks were heavily contaminated with bacteria including E. coli, which can cause diarrhea, urinary tract infections and even pneumonia.3
Clean your kitchen sink daily to keep the germs from gaining a foothold. Regularly disinfecting your sink with a chlorine-free bleach (one we like is 7th Generation Chlorine-Free Bleach), an essential oils spray (several drops of tea tree oil and several of eucalyptus in a standard spray bottle with water for example), or a commercial kitchen cleaner that has received a high grade from our friends over at the Environmental Working Group (ewg.org) is a must to keep the bugs at bay.
Salt and pepper shakers:
Chances are you touch your salt and pepper shakers at least once a day. If you like to cook you may even end up handling them several times a night. And all that touching means there are lots of opportunities for cross contamination.
When cooking with meats such as ground beef and poultry or with eggs we can easily transfer bacteria to any spice containers we touch. And even folks who never cook can end up transferring germs, such as the common rhinovirus, to their salt and pepper shakers.
When University of Virginia researchers asked a group of 30 adults who were starting to come down with a cold 10 things they had touched in their homes in the last 18 hours. They then tested all those spots for signs of the cold virus and found that every single one of the salt and pepper shakers tested were positive for the virus.4
Make sure to regularly wash your hands with warm water and plain soap. And make it a habit to wipe down your salt and pepper shakers daily to help avoid spreading germs.
1. “Consumer Food Handling Practices Lead to Cross-contamination,” Food Protection Trends, January/February 2015, Vol 35, No. 1, p.36–48
2. “Top Spots for Bacteria at Home,” WebMd.com, 6/25/2007
3. Hygiene Council Global Hygiene Study Report 2008, page 48.
4. Presentation at the American Society for Microbiology and the Infectious Diseases Society of America, 2008, Hendley, M.D.
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