Have you ever had the unpleasant experience of picking up one of the sponges you use to clean up around your home, only to end up with a nasty smell on your hands? Who hasn’t – and it’s gross! What most of us don’t realize is that these very sponges are more than likely loaded with disease-causing germs. The good news is that studies have shown that your microwave doubles as a powerful weapon (kind of like Clark Kent and his alter ego Batman), protecting you and your family against bacteria like E. Coli, salmonella and other bugs are at the root of a growing number of incidents of food poisoning and other illnesses. That’s right; microwave ovens serve a much higher purpose than just reheating leftovers.
In 2007, a University of Florida study involving engineering researchers found that microwaving kitchen sponges and scrub pads (plastic – no metal), known to be carriers of the viruses and bacteria that spread foodborne illnesses, disinfects (sterilizes) them quickly and effectively.
The University’s researchers reported that disease-causing germs and bacteria from meat, uncooked eggs, and vegetables work their way onto just about everything we use in the kitchen to cook and clean and onto countertops and cutting boards and are drawn to the moisture of dishcloths, scrubbers, and sponges that provide the perfect breeding ground for disease-causing bacteria. The professor of environmental engineering at the University, Gabriel Bitton, stated that the study found that they were able to kill most of the bacteria and germs in two minutes in the microwave.
Bitton also noted that while a lot of people put their sponges and scrubbers in the dishwasher in an effort to disinfect them, if they really want to sterilize them instead of simply cleaning them, they should use their microwave instead.
The results of the University of Florida’s study were crystal clear; just two minutes in the microwave on full power inactivated or killed over 99% of all the living pathogens in the sponges and scrub pads, however, Bacillus cereus spores (spore-forming bacteria found in a wide variety of foods that are resistant to cooking) required four minutes for complete inactivation. Bitton recommends that sponges and scrub pads should be microwaved every other day as a good rule of thumb.
Foodborne illnesses affect approximately 6 million Americans every year, causing around 9,000 deaths and billions of dollars in medical costs and other related expenses. As disturbing as it may seem, our kitchens are breeding grounds for dangerous contaminants, as pathogenic agents from a long list of foods that we eat find their way onto our kitchen utensils, countertops and damp cleaning tools.
So make it a point to protect yourself and your family from contaminants in your kitchen by sticking your wet sponges or scrub pads in the microwave every day or so and give them a quick, two-minute zap; it doesn’t get much easier than that.
Important to Note:
Before you attempt to sterilize your sponges and/or scrub pads in the microwave and to avoid the risk of fire, they must be completely wet. Microwaving for as little as two minutes is sufficient enough for sterilization in most cases. Also important is to make sure the sponges don’t have any metallic content. In addition, carefully remove the sponge or scrub pad from the microwave because it will be hot.