Each year, an estimated 48 million people get sick from foodborne illnesses in the United States, and many of these type of cases are our own fault. That’s right. There are things a lot of people do (or don’t do) in their own kitchens that make them sick.
1. Not Replacing Your Sponge
One study of kitchens in the United Kingdom found that the average kitchen sponge has 19.6 billion bacteria living on it.
One of your main cleaning supplies is also one of your filthiest. If you’re not regularly replacing your sponge, it’s basically becoming a squishy petri dish. One study of kitchens in the United Kingdom found that the average kitchen sponge has 19.6 billion bacteria living on it. Comparatively, this was worse than toilet brush handles. Other studies found massive colonies of Acinetobacter, Moraxella, and Chryseobacterium, along with E. coli and salmonella. Cleaning your sponges has proven largely ineffective. Instead, scientists suggest you replace your sponge once a week. According to the U.K. kitchen study, kitchen towels are equally as bad if they aren’t washed regularly.
Worn out sponges and towels create the ideal breeding ground for bacteria since two of the four key environmental factors are present — the area is moist and warm. As for factors three and four? Sponges also tend to not be overly acidic — many strains of bacteria enjoy an environment with a neutral pH. Additionally, many strains of bacteria grow well in well-oxygenated areas.
2. Letting Meat Thaw in the Sink
When it comes time to thawing meat to prepare for dinner, just let it sit in the sink or on the counter for a few hours, right? After all, the meat is too cold to be hospitable for germs, right? Unfortunately, no. Bacteria can grow on anything warmer than 40°F and cooler than 140°F, sometimes called the danger zone. Once your meat enters this range, bacteria can begin growing. To make matters worse, freezing may not kill the germs that were already on the meat.
Bacteria can grow on anything warmer than 40°F and cooler than 140°F, sometimes called the danger zone.
This makes it imperative to be smart with your thawing. If you have time, the safest method is thawing your meat in the refrigerator. If time is not on your side, you can thaw it in a cold bath in the sink or in the microwave. In either case, cook shortly after the meat thaws.
3. Mixing Cutting Boards
Foodborne illnesses don’t just come from eating your food. Cross-contamination is a real issue, especially in one sneaky spot; cutting boards are frequently misused or overused when preparing food. Using a single cutting board during meal prep can lead to cross-contamination. Instead, use one cutting board for all raw meats and another for any other things that need cutting. This will prevent many chances for raw meat to touch and contaminate the fresh food.
Use one cutting board for all raw meats and another for any other ingredients to prevent cross-contamination.
That said, the risk of cross-contamination in previously used cutting boards may be overstated. While some germs can stick around, if you’re cleaning the cutting boards properly, you shouldn’t get ill.
4. Forgetting About the Fridge
Even if you’re careful with cross-contamination and change out the sponges, there are still other vulnerable spaces. One surprising culprit is your refrigerator. Just because it’s cold in the fridge doesn’t mean that mold and germs can’t grow. If you’ve been thawing meat, have spilled juices, or simply haven’t cleaned the shelves for a while, you may be at risk of getting a foodborne illness. Much like how freezing may not kill bacteria, germs can survive in the refrigerator. You should be even more mindful of the vegetable and fruit drawers. These drawers often contain fresh produce, which can be dirty or grow mold if left too long.
If you’ve been thawing meat, have spilled juices, or simply haven’t cleaned the shelves for a while, you may be at risk of getting a foodborne illness.
Much like sponges and towels, the fridge water and ice dispensers, which can easily attract mold.
5. Not Cleaning the Common Items
You may clean everything in your fridge, but there are several common items you may be forgetting about. Can openers are often left uncleaned since they’re not obviously dirtied when used. In addition to piercing the can, they also touch the juice or water in the can. Left uncleaned, your can opener becomes a breeding ground for some pretty disgusting bacteria.
When was the last time you cleaned your reusable grocery bag?
Finally, there’s another big one that you’ve probably not thought of. When was the last time you cleaned your reusable grocery bag? They may be better for the environment, but if you’re not washing them, they’re not great for you. The bag touches dirtied products, dirty shopping carts, and dirty checkout counters. Notably, many place the bag in the cart’s baby seat, which is often teeming with germs. So, either wash the reusable bag regularly or toss it out after a few uses.
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After learning about all of this, it’d be easy to look at your kitchen as nothing more than a hive of germs, bacteria, and mold. You may even never want to cook again. That’s not our point. We love cooking! Cooking for yourself is fun, cheaper, and healthier for you! You just need to be smart about cleaning and knowing different health risks. Be safe and enjoy yourself around the kitchen.