If you had to pick one household item that’s the biggest hotspot for germs, what would you choose?
Is it your toothbrush holder? Nope.
What about your bathroom doorknob or faucet handle? Guess again.
It turns out our bathrooms are not as germy as we might expect. However, our kitchens can be thriving breeding grounds for bacteria, including the beloved sponge.
That’s according to a widely referenced 2011 study by the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF). NSF researchers tested 30 household items including toilet handles, stove knobs and pet bowls. They discovered that a type of bacteria known as Coliform, along with yeast and mold, were most likely to be found in the kitchen versus anywhere else in the home.
Why the kitchen? Mostly, researchers found that it is most likely to be one failed hand wash or poor food handling practice away.
Kansas State University researchers found that poor hand washing practices can lead to the subsequent contamination of towels, kitchen faucets, countertops and the fruit or food itself. There were also a few kitchen items that stood out as germ magnets. Dish sponges and dish rags were by far the “germiest” objects tested in the NSF study.
It’s no secret that sponges can be greenhouses for microbes. The FDA says sponges are difficult, if not impossible, to clean once they have been in contact with food particles and contaminants that are found in the use environment.
Kitchen sinks and the reservoirs tucked inside coffee makers also had high levels of bacteria. While caffeine has anti-bacterial properties it does not prevent bacteria from rapidly reproducing in the drip trays and capsule containers in single-use pod coffee makers. Their advice: regularly clean your pod coffee maker (manufacturers sell specific products for this use).
What to do? Dr. Mayrene Hernandez, chief medical officer for UnitedHealthcare Florida, provides the following recommendations:
Wash your hands before, during and after meal preparation. Hand washing can reduce the likelihood of spreading germs. The Centers for Disease Control recommends scrubbing your hands in soapy water for at least 20 seconds.
Consider replacing your sponges every one to two weeks. You can significantly reduce bacteria by microwaving your sponge for one minute or running it through the dishwasher or consider using disposable paper towels or reusable dishrags laundered in hot water clean kitchen counters instead of your dish sponge.
Before you freak out about the possibility of your kitchen making you sick, rest assured that very few bacteria cause most foodborne illness hospitalizations. According to one food microbiologist, those harmful bacteria are rarely found in NSF’s No. 1 germ-trapper, the kitchen sponge. Still, since germs are more likely to be lurking in your kitchen compared to other places in your home, it doesn’t hurt to practice good sponge, hand washing and food handling hygiene.
United Health Care