Are bacteria having a party in your sink?

Apr 7, 2017 | 15 comments

My morning routine includes listening to podcasts from a variety of NPR radio shows as I walk on the Tomebamba. Yesterday, I was in stitches listening to the food safety expert describing how most people’s kitchen sinks were best suited to hosting a riotous party for bacteria! I can’t shake this image of elfin bacteria wearing party hats and tooting horns, dancing around in my double sink.

A story in Food & Wine Magazine quotes Dr. Charles Gerba (a.k.a. Dr. Germ), a microbiologist and professor at the university of Arizona in Tucson; “In most cases, it’s safer to make a salad on a toilet seat than it is to make one on a cutting board.”

Although most people would think that it’s a bathroom that’s unclean, it’s much more likely that your kitchen harbors
nasty germs.

Here’s where the most bacteria thrive, and here are some tips to stay safe.

The kitchen sponge is 200,000 times dirtier than a toilet seat. Most people use their sponge to wipe counters where they are cleaning vegetables and fruits, meats, poultry and fish, and the sponge, being a warm, moist environment, are perfect for harboring pathogenic bacteria.

Don’t microwave your sponge.  Instead, disinfect it.

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The kitchen sponge is 200,000 times dirtier than a toilet seat.  Most people use their sponge to wipe counters where they are cleaning vegetables and fruits, meats, poultry and fish, and the sponge, being a warm, moist environment, are perfect for harboring pathogenic bacteria.

Although the USDA in 2007 said that microwaving sponges can kill up to 99.9% of pathogenic bacteria, it appears that the advice can’t be substantiated, and microwaving is less effective than disinfecting it with a simple bleach and water solution.  The microwave is notorious for uneven heating, and the sponge needs to be nuked at full power for 2 full minutes, and it must be saturated with water, otherwise it’s liable to catch fire.

And although the USDA also noted that putting your sponge in the dishwasher’s utensil compartment is effective, it’s less convenient than bleach and water, and not everyone has a dishwasher, especially here in Cuenca.

Dr. Germ also advises that vinegar and lemon juice can clean some bacteria, but are ineffective against those really bad pathogenic germs.

So the vote is for asimple disinfecting bleach solution, which will completely permeate all of the sponge’s ‘nooks and crannies’ quickly and effectively.

Business Insider quotes Philip Tierno, microbiologist and pathologist at New York University School of Medicine as saying that even washing that sponge with soap and water won’t clean your sponge effectively. He and other experts  advises disinfecting it, using a simple bleach solution.  Tierno is quoted in BusinessInsider.com.

“Fill a large container with one part standard household bleach (the kind you find in pretty much any store or supermarket that sells laundry products) and nine parts water.

If you’re using a gallon jug — say an empty, clean milk jug — you would add about 14 ounces of bleach to about 14 cups of water. Swirl it together and then pour some of the solution into a bowl — enough to completely cover your sponge. Store the jug under your sink for another use.

After washing your dishes, soak your sponge in the bowl for about 10 to 30 seconds, making sure it’s completely submerged in the solution.

Almost instantly, the bleach solution will kill any and all germs on contact.

“It’s very potent,” Tierno said. “It can kill anthrax spores.”

Then rinse it in water and wring it out to get rid of any excess bleach.

Do this after every time you wash your dishes — especially after you’ve cleaned up raw meat. Also do this before and after you use the same sponge to wipe your counters to reduce the risk of cross contamination.

Use a fresh bowl of bleach solution for each session.

Once you’re done with your disinfection, make sure to wring out the sponge and let it air dry. This will eliminate any potential for errant bacteria to cling onto a moist pocket.”

Don’t forget the dishtowel. Damp dishtowels are similarly perfect for harboring bacteria, and unless you’re washing them in the highest temperature setting, you’ve got exposure risk.  Soak your white dishtowels in your bleach disinfection solution, and/or use a bleach disinfection laundry detergent that’s labeled to kill household bacteria, at the high temperature setting. Do this a few times weekly, and in between be sure to hang them up to dry immediately after using.

More Tips For Safe Food Handling

Sanitize your counters daily: A solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented liquid bleach to 1 gallon of water can be used to sanitize surfaces and your sink.

Store all raw animal foods on the bottom of the refrigerator: Raw meat, fish, eggs and poultry can drip onto ready-to-eat foods and contaminate with pathogens. Then be sure to wipe down the bottom shelves and drawers weekly with your bleach disinfecting solution.  Moisture and condensation gather there, making it a perfect place for growing bad germs.

Separate food when shopping:you may inadvertently cross-contaminate foods so bring extra plastic bags and keep your poultry, meats, fish, and produce separated.

Throw it out: cooked leftovers after 4 days; raw poultry, ground meats, fish: 1-2 days.

Wash everything: rinse well all fruits and vegetables before eating, even those that you’re peeling, like bananas and citrus, to prevent microbes from transferring from the outside to the inside of produce.  Ever see how they deliver pineapples and bananas to the market? From the truck, to the sidewalk, to the wheelbarrow, to the vendor.

Dedicate cutting boards: it’s very easy to cross-contaminate if you’re using the same cutting board for everything.  Keep your poultry cutting board separate from raw seafood, meat, and produce.  Never place cooked food back on the same plate or cutting board that previously held raw food.

Avoid the Danger Zone:Food safety agencies, such as the United States’ Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), define the danger zone as roughly 4 to 60 °C (39 to 140 °F). If left on the counter for more than 2 hours, throw it out (1 hour if the air temperature is 32.2 °C (90 °F.) Leaving food out too long at room temperature can cause salmonella, E.coli, and other bacteria to grow, causing possibly deadly illness. Bacteria can double in just 20 minutes at room temperature. Learn more here.

Sources

BusinessInsider.com. Your kitchen sponge is disgusting, and here’s the only good way to clean it. http://www.businessinsider.com/your-kitchen-sponge-is-disgusting-and-heres-the-only-good-way-to-clean-it-2016-1

Food&Wine.com. FYI, Your Kitchen Is Probably Dirtier than a Toilet Seat. http://www.foodandwine.com/articles/fyi-your-kitchen-is-probably-dirtier-than-a-toilet-seat

HuffingtonPost.com. Your kitchen sponge is as revolting as it smells. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/11/17/sponge-germs-kitchen-blech_n_6140236.html
USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service: Danger Zone.

https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-education/get-answers/food-safety-fact-sheets/safe-food-handling/danger-zone-40-f-140-f/CT_Index

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