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Hidden dangers in a kitchen

February 2018

dirty kitchen

When you read of the potential for germs in the kitchen, it is a wonder any of us survive!

The BBC have reported, in conjunction with their Trust Me I’m a Doctor programme, that an American microbiologist says it could be safer to make a salad on a toilet seat than on the kitchen cutting board.

The trouble with kitchens is that we bring in such a range of foods, including fresh foods that can introduce bacteria and other problems. Most of us know that raw chicken can be a problem when it comes into contact with other foods that you may be eating fresh; and so keeping them separate in a fridge is now well accepted. Fresh poultry and raw meat can leave salmonella and campylobacter germs on the chopping board even if you just pop them down for a short moment before wrapping and putting into the fridge. Fruit and vegetables can also be a problem as they can carry pathogens. Dirty outer packaging is another issue. The Food Standards Agency suggests you should remove outer packaging from food before bringing it into the kitchen; but of course it is must easier and quicker to unpack on the kitchen surfaces, so this advice generally goes unheeded.

The chopping and cutting boards in a kitchen can be a major source of bacteria. In the past butchers used to salt their cutting blocks. In the home, wooden boards are still popular but it is worth knowing that hardwoods are much safer. Soft wood chopping boards such as cypress are larger grained, and cutting on these surfaces can form tiny grooves which we might not see but where bacteria can thrive. A fine grained hard wood are better although they can of course over time begin to blunt a knife.

The other problem with wooden cutting boards is washing them and they really should be scrubbed well with hot water to ensure everything is removed from any scratches and grooves as well as the overall surface. Plastic cutting boards can go into a dishwasher where really hot water and help sanitize the surface. If washing by hand, plastic surface needs a good scrub as small almost invisible scratches may still be harbouring bacteria.

The final important aspect is to ensure the cutting board dries thoroughly; any moisture can encourage the growth of bacteria. Either leave it out in the air to dry completely, or ensure it is totally dry before you put it away. 

Sponges and dishcloths are another major source of infection; they are often warm and wet, the perfect environment for bacteria to grow and develop. Most of us use dishcloths or sponges until they begin to wear out but the professional advice is replace them every week; or at least put the sponge into the dishwasher for a hot wash. You can even put the sponge or cloth into the microwave on high for around 30 seconds as that will help remove many of the germs.

Then of course there is the sink...a great home for E.coli as it is usually damp plus it is constantly fed with new bacteria as food and bits and pieces and put down the sink. In the past home ideas such as vinegar and lemon juice used to be swirled into sinks to get rid of bacteria, but they don’t do a complete job and today you can buy good disinfectant products.

These products can also work well for general kitchen surfaces; and with both the sink and surfaces, it can be a good idea to dry them thoroughly after cleaning – bacteria need moisture to flourish. Paper towels are good here as they are then disposed of, so there is no risk of cross contamination.

There is no easy way to be sure of hygiene in the kitchen though. The respected National Sanitation Foundation in America carried out a test on everyday household items from kitchen surfaces to mobile phones. They asked a number of families to take swabs from 30 items every day and the results showed that 75% of dish cloths and sponges were contaminated by coliform bacteria. They also found these bacteria in 45% of kitchen sinks and 32% of kitchen surfaces.

We will never achieve a 100% bacteria free environment in a normal household; but being aware of the dangers and doing what we can to maximise cleanliness makes a lot of sense.

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