Did you ever imagine that the food poisoning you blamed on your favorite seafood restaurant may have actually been caused by the lunch you prepared in your kitchen? Well, according to studies by NSF International, a nonprofit scientific organization, it’s definitely possible. When you think about it, it’s really no-brainer that if you keep using the same kitchen sponge, day after day, using it to clean pots and pans, giving them a quick rinse and a squeeze, then attacking your countertops that you just may get hit with a foodborne illness. Also, consider this – when was the last time you took your blender apart and thoroughly cleaned all the parts? Never? Yuck! Truth be told, a lot of people are guilty of these kitchen cleaning habits, habits that can cause a long list of nasty illnesses.
The NSF analyzed appliances and other common surfaces and utensils in kitchens and found an assortment of bacteria, including major causes of foodborne illness like E. Coli, Salmonella, and Listeria. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, every year approximately 48 million people (1 in 6 Americans), fall ill from foodborne illnesses that resulted in thousands of deaths and over 100,000 hospitalizations. It’s hard to believe that any of these numbers could be blamed on the germs in our kitchens but they can.
A 2011 study carried out by the NSF found that some of the germiest items in the home were dish rags and sponges, kitchen sinks, coffee makers, pet bowls and toothbrush holders. The group’s new study had volunteer families swab common kitchen items like can openers, knife blocks, pizza cutters, silverware trays, storage containers with rubber seal edges, strainers, spatulas, the microwave keypad, water and ice dispensers and vegetable and meat compartments in refrigerators. Most people never give any of these things a second thought when it comes to germs, but it makes complete sense when you stop to think about it.
The NSF study considered 4 forms of microorganisms linked to foodborne illness, including Listeria, yeast, mold, Salmonella and: E. coli. These illnesses are especially dangerous for older adults, pregnant women and anyone with a weak immune system. The results of the study will make you want to clean your kitchen with a vengeance.
25% of the kitchen items tested contained the E. Coli bacteria (rubber spatula, blender, refrigerator meat compartment, pizza cutter). In many cases, E. Coli bacteria is spread through contaminated water and food, causing pneumonia, urinary tract infections, diarrhea and other complications that can actually lead to kidney damage and damage blood cells as well.
This food-borne bacteria was also found on 25% of the items tested, including most of the items that had E-Coli as well as the refrigerator water and ice dispensers and food storage container rubber seals. Salmonella can cause Salmonellosis, a disease that can cause stomach pain, fever, and diarrhea and can be particularly dangerous for the very young or the elderly and those with weak immune systems.
Mold and Yeast
Yeast and mold were found on a whopping 100% of all items tested with some of the worst cases being refrigerator compartments, the blender gasket, spatula, water and ice dispensers and the rubber seal on the storage containers. These nasty contaminants can get into your food, accelerate spoilage and even cause allergic reactions.
Listeria was found on 10% of all of the items tested, including the refrigerator door seal and the vegetable compartment. The Listeria bacteria can cause muscle aches, fever and gastrointestinal symptoms. A disastrous case of a Listeria outbreak happened in 2011 when 147 people (in 28 states) were sickened by cantaloupes, causing one miscarriage and 33 deaths.
Overall, the germiest kitchen items were the blender gasket, rubber spatula, food storage containers with rubber seals and refrigerator meat and storage compartments. The reason these kitchen items posed some of the biggest problems is that they come into direct contact with food. The ones that are the most dangerous are those that are used with meat and raw produce.
The kitchen contains more germs than any room in the home and it’s also in many ways the heart of the home where the whole family tends to gather, both reasons to do what it takes to keep it as clean and as germ-free as possible. The germs found in your kitchen can spread like wildfire, lurking everywhere from your overused sponges to your cooking utensils and the storage containers you pack your kid’s lunches in. You can down on exposure to these nasty germs by thoroughly cleaning your kitchen appliances like the blender by taking it apart and cleaning all the nooks and crannies. Additional quick and easy cleaning tips include:
Microwave Away Germs.
Kitchen sponges are the #1 source of germs in the entire household. You can solve the problem by wetting your sponge and then popping it in the microwave for 2 minutes. This will zap away any germs lurking inside the sponge’s crevices.
Dish rags aren’t any safer than sponges and using a dirty one will only spread germs. The best rule of thumb is to replace your dish rags at least once a week and letting them dry out between uses.
Wipe Away Germs
Use a good non-toxic all-purpose cleaner to clean refrigerator door handles, faucet handles, microwave keypads, and doorknobs on a regular basis. You’ll also want to use it on stove and cupboard handles; basically any surface your or your family frequently touch.
Clean the cutting board.
This is a gross one – did you know that the average cutting board has around 200% more fecal bacteria on it than toilet seats? I bet this info will encourage you to pay special attention to clearing your cutting board.
Don’t Forget the Kitchen Drain
The kitchen (and bathroom) drains provide the perfect, moist hiding places for bacteria. The good news is you can kill these germs using baking soda and an old toothbrush to remove, grit, stains, and grime around the drain.
If you follow the cleaning tips mentioned here you’ll be on your way to a safer kitchen environment. If you choose natural, non-toxic all-purpose cleaners, you taking the safety of your household a step further.