Your Kitchen Is Not As Clean As You Think It Is

HYANNIS – Martha Stewart would probably cringe to hear it, buta study at Drexel Universityin Philadelphia found that most homes don’t meet the food safety standards of restaurant kitchens.

“When people get sick from food-related issues, they often think back to the last time they ate out,” said study co-authorJennifer Quinlan, associate professor in Drexel’s College of Nursing and Health Professions, in a universitypress release. “But contamination in the home definitely leads to a certain amount of those illnesses.”

That’s not surprising news to Rachel Songer, RDN, LDN, a clinical dietitian in Cape Cod Healthcare’s Nutrition Therapy department.

“Many people think that if something looks clean – no visible dirt – then things are fine, but that’s not true,” she said. “Bacteria can multiply very quickly and spread really easily.”

The good news is that there’s a lot you can do to protect yourself from hidden hazards in the kitchen, according to Songer.

It’s important to clean and sanitize counters and implements before and after cooking, she said.

“Start your meal prep by giving the counter a good cleaning, especially if you have a cat. They can jump up and walk across kitchen counters during the day and you might not know.”

Make sure that you’re cleaning everything thoroughly, she said. You can’t just assume something is clean by the way it looks.

“You can’t see bacteria,” she noted.

Don’t forget the sink!

“That is one of the dirtiest pieces of equipment because many people don’t clean their sink very often and yet they’re throwing their dishes in there.”

Keep sanitizer, disinfectant products and soap close to the sink, so you’ll be more likely to use them frequently.

Common Breeding Grounds

Cutting boards are often an overlooked source of cross-contamination, Songer said.

“Buy the ones that don’t get grooves as easily. A wood cutting board is better than plastic,” she said.

You can wash your cutting boards by hand or in the dishwasher – and that’s “boards,” as in more than one.

“I recommend having different cutting boards – one for meat and poultry, one for fish, one for vegetables – and separating them. Get them in different colors or sizes, so you can keep them straight.”

In the Drexel study, dishcloths and sponges were the most contaminated samples, with 64 percent testing positive for bacteria.

“These things are reservoirs for bacteria,” said Quinlan. “And even worse, if we found staph or fecal coliforms in your sponges or your dishtowels, it was more likely we would find them elsewhere throughout your kitchen. If you’re using them to clean your counters and other areas, the bacteria’s going to spread.”

Songer recommends washing dish towels every few days. Sponges should be cleaned every time you use them. “I run it under really hot water to get all the excess soap and water out of it, squeeze it and let it dry,” she said.

To keep pathogens from building up, sponges should be microwaved for one minute a day or run through the dishwasher. She replaces her sponges about once a week.

“That might sound like a short time to replace it, but it depends on how much you’re using it and how quickly it’s getting worn. Sponges are inexpensive, so the more frequently you replace them, the better.”

Refrigeration was another area of concern in the Drexel study. Nearly half of home refrigerators were measured above the recommended temperature of 41 F.

“Refrigeration slows down or stops the growth of bacteria, so if raw meat, fish and/or poultry are held above 41 F, it allows bacteria to grow more quickly,” Quinlan said. “The higher above 41 F, the faster the bacteria will grow.”

Taking a little each time with each meal to follow these tips will pay off, said Songer.

“With a few minutes of care, you can keep foodborne illnesses off the menu of health hazards.”

By BILL O’NEILL, Cape Cod Health News

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