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When It Comes to the Kitchen, What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You!

Don’t live with the germs in you kitchen, kill them

When you think of places in your house with the most germs, your bathroom is probably the first place to come to mind. But, there’s a good chance you’re overlooking one of the germiest places in your house…

The kitchen.

In most cases, it’s safer to make a salad on a toilet seat than it is to make one on a cutting board.” 

Gerba_CharlesDr. Charles Gerba, University of Arizona microbiologist and professor

And, yes, we cook in the kitchen. It’s the hub of the house, and some say:

The heart of the home. But who wants to cook and eat in a germ infested kitchen, so germy, in fact, that it puts the toilet room to shame?

Not me! And not you.

So, let’s identify where all the creepy crawlies are hiding, so we can feel comfortable in our kitchens once again.

The Top 10 Items Hiding Kitchen Germs

kitchen

Practically every part of your kitchen is susceptible to germs. However, the germiest areas are likely not what you’d most expect.

Now that we’ve made you completely paranoid to touch anything in your kitchen, here’s where you should look.

1. Look at your refrigerator door, no not the handle…

Many refrigerators have a built-in water and ice dispensers. How convenient, right?

Just press your glass, and ice cubes (whole, chopped, or crushed) tumble out, press again and fill up with deliciously refreshing cold water. You are hooked up! But are you?

?

Think again

Some studies have shown that water dispensers can contain up to 4,000 bacteria colonies.

According to Dr. Helene Ver Eecke, the results have nothing to do with whether you replace your water filter regularly and that the screen does nothing more than helping your water taste better.

What she did say was:

Germs primarily breed in this area because of the frequency of human contact.”

Dr. Helene Ver EeckeDr. Helene Ver Eecke 

And not only that:

Many people refill dirty cups and sports bottles here, passing germs from one surface to the other.

2. Rethink scraping that cake batter

That’s right, your rubber spatula.

Rubber spatulas are troublesome because of how much we touch them. Not only that, many people don’t wash spatulas properly. Did you know they detach into two pieces?

Most of us tend to clean the product in one part, allowing moisture to creep into crevices. And I don’t have to tell you, that damp environment is prime real estate for bacteria babies. Studies have found that rubber spatulas can carry E. coli, mold, and yeast. Yikes.

So, here’s what to do:

Clean your spatula with hot, soapy water after each use. If possible, wash the spatula in the dishwasher. If your spatula comes apart into two pieces, be sure to disconnect it before washing. Allow the spatula to dry completely before storing.

Then, you too can avoid a bacteria fiesta.

3. Eat your veggies! …question mark

The refrigerator vegetable compartment is a hot-bed for bacteria, testing positive for:

checklist

Most people don’t wash their vegetables when they bring them home from the grocery store. Instead, they wait until they’re going to use the veggies.

Unfortunately, that’s a mistake. The cold, damp environment of your vegetable compartment creates the ideal breeding ground for bacteria to multiply.

So, here’s what you need to do:

Make sure that you separate washed or packaged produce and raw produce. For instance, if you buy mushrooms in a pre-wrapped container, don’t store these in the same bin as a head of lettuce. And not only that:

Instead of keeping your vegetables in a drawer, try saving them on a shelf. Make sure you put the veggies above meats and poultry, as juices from these products often drip down below.

4. I’m making smooothieeeees!

You may wash your blender container frequently, but how often do you clean the gasket and blades?

Failure to routinely do so leaves your family susceptible to germs. Unfortunately, tests from the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) discovered that blender gaskets commonly contain:

  • Salmonella
  • E. coli
  • Mold
  • Yeast

Results from the study showed that blenders were the third most dirty product in the kitchen. Yuck!

Let’s prevent that:

  1. Make sure that you regularly unplug your blender and remove the jar from its base
  2. Place the blades and gasket in the dishwasher, or wash them by hand using hot water.
  3. Allow the products to dry thoroughly before reassembling the blender.​

5. Got ice?

Yes, we touched base on ice up here.

Similar to the refrigerator water dispenser, the ice dispenser is a hub for bacteria.

Think about it: Most people don’t use a new cup every time they use the ice dispenser, causing them to pass germs and bacteria.

But this is easy enough to take care of: To clean the water and ice dispensers, fill a spray bottle with alcohol and saturate the surface. Allow the alcohol to dry. Beware, though, don’t wipe excess alcohol, as this will re-contaminate the surface.

And you don’t want that.

6. Yup, we’re still in the fridge

Much like the vegetable compartment, your meat compartment is a hotbed for bacterial growth.

Admit it, you want to make a sandwich now, don’t you? Yeah, right. Here’s the truth: During NSF testing, the meat compartment had the most E. coli of any product in the kitchen and the second-most Salmonella. Testers also found yeast and mold.

Fix that by doing this: Remove both the meat and veggie compartments from your fridge. Use a clean sponge and rinse the bins with dishwashing soap and warm water. If the bins smell, you can add baking soda to your detergent when cleaning.

Use a clean towel to wipe the drawers dry.

And don’t forget:

Avoid storing meats in the containers in the future, opting instead to put them on the shelf. Remember — below the veggies, please.

7. Out of the fridge and into the butcher block

How often do you remove a knife to open a product and then place it back into your knife block? Well, guess what: Every time you do so, you’re transmitting germs and bacteria, causing the knife block to become one of the leading carriers in the kitchen. Unfortunately, many people go years without cleaning their knife block, harboring yeast and mold.

And you didn’t even know you could clean it. Did you?

To clean the knife block, start by removing the knives. Then, use a can of compressed air to blow out any crumbs stuck in areas that you cannot see.

Then, use hot, soapy water to handwash the block. Try to use a small brush, such as a pipe cleaner or baby bottle brush, to reach into crevices. And make sure that you wash the knives as well.

This should be done at least once per month.

8. Food storage with a rubber seal-manella?

Simply put: Any food storage container with a rubber seal is susceptible to germs.

Examples can include everything from insulated pitchers to pressurized cookers. NSF testing found that containers with rubber seals were the eighth-germiest products in the kitchen, containing yeast, mold, and ye ol’ Salmonella.

And here’s why:

Homeowners wash lids in one piece (having spatula flashbacks?), allowing bacteria to grow underneath the rubber seal.

If possible, remove the seal when cleaning and enable the cover to dry adequately before placing reattaching the seal. If you can’t remove the seal, make sure that you pay careful attention to this area during the cleaning process.

Be sure to diligently clean the grooves where the cover snaps onto the container.

9. Cans of soup all around

Your can opener is likely to come in contact with trace amounts of food, making it particularly susceptible to E. coli and Salmonella. Most people don’t wash their can opener after every use, opting to instead place it back into the dark environment that is the utensils drawer. Here, bacteria spreads like wildfire from the can opener to all the other utensils in the drawer.

Spectacular. To keep your can opener clean, you need to make sure that you wash it after every use. If your tool is safe to put in the dishwasher, this should be your first choice.

But, if you must clean the device by hand, make sure that you focus on the cutting blade, where there is more likely to be food residue. Open the handle when drying to allow the can opener to dry completely.

10. And back to the fridge

​Much like the rubber seal on storage containers, the insulating seal on your refrigerator could contain many areas that are challenging to reach.

And here’s the bad news:

Unlike the seal on the storage container, there’s a strong chance that you can’t remove the seal on your refrigerator.

But all is not lost:

Clean the seal by using a clean rag that you dip in a solution of detergent and warm water. Wipe dry with a separate cloth when finished.

What You Need to Know About Germs in Your Kitchen

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

Nearly 50 million people get sick from a foodborne illness each year. These foodborne illnesses are responsible for more than 125,000 hospitalizations and roughly 3,000 deaths annually.

And that’s not the worst of it:

Studies also show that approximately one-fifth of these outbreaks occur from food consumed in the home. Contributing factors include improper food:

  • Storage
  • Preparation
  • Handling

The primary germs found in the kitchen are especially problematic for household occupants.

Children, the elderly, women who are pregnant, and those with a compromised immune system are all at heightened risk of exposure and sickness from foodborne illnesses.

Knowledge is power, so let’s gain some strength.

What is Coliform?

bacterium

Image via sciencefocus

Coliform is a rod-shaped bacterium often found in the digestive tract of warm-blooded animals. Accordingly, human and animal feces most commonly contain. You could also discover them in water, soil, and plants.

The good news is: Some strains of coliform are safe. But that’s not the whole story: Others forms cause the E. coli virus. And we all know what that can do.

Statistics show that coliform is more than 80 percent present in the household. Not only that, but during product testing, it was 71 percent present on sponges and rags, 45 percent present in kitchen sinks, and 32 percent present on countertops.

That’s huge.

Coliform is also one of the most common water contaminants, which is why areas like your faucets and refrigerator water dispensers are particularly susceptible to risk. If you want to decrease your risk of E. coli, don’t eat uncooked food like hamburgers or raw cookie dough. Unfortunately, that’s not going to keep you completely safe.

E. coli spreads throughout the kitchen and could be on many of your common household appliances. In fact, you could be cross-contaminating your food without realizing it.

Let’s look at yeast and mold

coliform

Image via mrscolleysmicroorganisms

Coliform is a rod-shaped bacterium often found in the digestive tract of warm-blooded animals. Accordingly, human and animal feces most commonly contain. You could also discover them in water, soil, and plants.

The good news is: Some strains of coliform are safe. But that’s not the whole story: Others forms cause the E. coli virus. And we all know what that can do.

Statistics show that coliform is more than 80 percent present in the household. Not only that, but during product testing, it was 71 percent present on sponges and rags, 45 percent present in kitchen sinks, and 32 percent present on countertops.

That’s huge.

Coliform is also one of the most common water contaminants, which is why areas like your faucets and refrigerator water dispensers are particularly susceptible to risk. If you want to decrease your risk of E. coli, don’t eat uncooked food like hamburgers or raw cookie dough. Unfortunately, that’s not going to keep you completely safe.

E. coli spreads throughout the kitchen and could be on many of your common household appliances. In fact, you could be cross-contaminating your food without realizing it.

Let’s look at yeast and mold

Mold is a fungus that grows in the form of hyphae, otherwise known was multicellular filaments.

On the other hand:

Yeast is a fungus that contains a single-celled growth habit. More than that, yeast is responsible for breaking down cells, which can cause deterioration and decomposition in the foods that we eat.

When you think of yeast, you probably think of this:

But these are different.

Foodborne molds and fungi are problematic because they can produce toxic metabolites known as mycotoxins.

Mold and yeast pose significant health risks. These germs could cause people to develop allergic reactions and asthma. Severe exposure could even cause hypersensitivity pneumonitis, which is a lung disease.

But most terrifying of all:

There are also documented instances of mold causing pulmonary hemorrhage in children, leading to death.

​During testing, yeast and mold were more than 30 percent present in the household. These germs were 86 percent present on sponges and rags, 50 percent present in the reservoirs of coffee makers, 27 percent present on stove knobs and in kitchen sinks, and 23 percent present on refrigerator handles.

If mold is visible, you may need to purchase a specific mold or mildew cleaner to remove it from the surface.

Or

You may find that a solution of one cup bleach to one gallon of water can disinfect and remove mold.

But keep in mind:

If these products don’t help, or you notice significant visible black mold, you may need to hire a professional who can remove the toxins according to standards set forth by the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

Yup. It’s that serious.

Staphylococcus — present and accounted for

Staphylococcus is a broad term representing more than 30 types of bacteria. The most troublesome and well-known is Staphylococcus aureus. This strain can cause a wide range of symptoms including:

  • Pneumonia
  • Food Poisoning
  • Skin Infections
  • Food Poisoning
  • Toxic Shock Syndrome

Foodsafety.gov says that the bacteria multiply quickly at room temperature, with incubation starting within an hour.

And get this:

A whopping quarter of the population carries Staphylococcus aureus on their skin and noses.

So long as it is present outside the body, the bacterium is not harmful.

However, when the bacteria enters an open wound, or we ingest them, we subject ourselves to serious health risks. Staph typically causes flu-like symptoms, including a high fever and chills.

But here’s some hope for you:

Doctors can treat most staph with antibiotics, but it’s critical that you do so urgently. If left unaddressed, you could end up suffering from dehydration and, in severe cases, organ failure. Some strains of staph, such as MRSA, is resistant to antibiotics.

And unfortunately…

you have no idea of knowing what type of staph bacteria lurks in your kitchen.

Here are some facts you have to know:

Staph bacteria are five percent present in the household, although most types you can find it in the kitchen. Staph was 18% present on sponges and rags, 14% present on refrigerator handles, and 14% present on pet bowls.

Now that you’re nice and paranoid, let’s disinfect

Ok, so you’re having chicken for dinner, and you cut it up. BUT, you didn’t clean the knife properly and put it back in the butcher block.

Now, the Salmonella lives there.

Every time you take that knife out and use it, Mr. Salmonella comes for a ride and cross-contaminates everything you touch.

Let’s STOP that madness.

Let’s stop it right now.

Microbiologist Lisa Yakas, senior project manager for the NSF study, perhaps said it best when she spoke with CBS News. Yakas said, “I think the biggest oversight that people make is they don’t follow the manufacturer’s instructions when it comes to cleaning. They just don’t think that these places can be dirty.

Gather your cleaning supplies, people.

Understand the difference between cleaning and disinfecting

One of the most significant issues with keeping the kitchen safe is the failure to understand the difference between cleaning and disinfecting. People often use the two terms synonymously, but they have drastically different connotations.

Difference between Cleaning and Disinfecting

Cleaning occurs when you wipe down your countertops and polish handles. The goal of cleaning should be to remove dirt, grease, and food residues.

Cleaning your kitchen is about appearance. Your kitchen can look clean but still be filthy. Disinfecting, on the other hand, is about killing germs, viruses, bacteria, and other parasites.

And here’s the problem:

People clean their kitchens and mistake it for disinfecting.

Take a refrigerator water dispenser as an example. Over time, water stains will accumulate. You may take a damp rag and wipe down the machine to remove these stains. Oh, the dispenser will now look shiny and new.

But you didn’t disinfectant the area at all.

Depending on the rag you used, you may have even added more germs to the area.

Clean your sponges and replace dishrags regularly

​Have you ever washed your dishes and then used the sponge to wipe your counter and stovetops? You may think that doing so is cleaning your kitchen.

But I’ve got bad news:

In reality, all you’re doing is spreading germs.

To keep your kitchen free of bacteria, you need to use clean sponges. But nobody is going to use a new sponge with each cleaning.

So, here’s what you do:

After using your sponge, while it’s still wet, put it in the microwave for two minutes. Doing so will kill a majority of the germs on the surface of your sponge, including those in hard-to-reach crevices.

That way, you won’t be spreading bacteria around your kitchen.

Dishrags are similar in that they collect bacteria.

Oh, joy.

We recommend replacing dish rags approximately once every week. Just pick a day!

Sending the cloths through the washing machine and drying them on a high-heat cycle should kill germs and bacteria.

Remember: Germs breed well in moist conditions, so make sure that you’re drying the towels well between uses. Paper towels are another excellent option as well. 

Disinfect areas that you touch frequently

Another way to help prevent the spread of germs in the kitchen is by disinfecting areas that you touch frequently. An easy thing to do is to use disinfectant sprays or wipes to do so. These products kill bacteria immediately.

Ideally, you’d do this several times per day, both before and after touching a product. However, this is not feasible for most people. So, at the very least, try disinfecting surfaces once per day.

There’s a dark side to this, though:

Disinfectant sprays can’t be used on cooking surfaces because you’ll contaminate food. And that’s exactly the opposite of what we’re doing here.

Consuming these sprays could make you very sick. Do not use disinfecting sprays on cutting boards, knives, sponges, or anything else that could come into contact with food or dishes.

Instead, use them here:

  • Sink faucets
  • Stove and cabinet handles
  • Trashcans
  • Refrigerator and freezer handles
  • Doorknobs
  • Telephones

Use the sterilize cycle — Stat!

The sterilize cycle on your dishwasher can help you kill germs and bacteria, as the rinse water heats to approximately 155 degrees Fahrenheit. You can do this once a month, so long as you’re cleaning them properly otherwise.

Look for these labels on your dishwasher:

  • Sani-Rise
  • SaniWash
  • Sanitize

Protect Your Health by Disinfecting Your Kitchen

When cleaning your home, it’s critical that you spend as much time disinfecting your kitchen as you do your bathrooms.

If you don’t…

Well, we’ve told you what can happen and what can take residence in your kitchen.

And now that you know, you have the power to protect your kitchen from such fate, and preserve the health of your family.

Do you have any tips that keep your kitchen clean and disinfected? Share them with us in the comments!

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