Does Your Kitchen Have a Dirty Little Secret?

Do you keep a sponge or cloth in your kitchen to wipe up spills and clean your sink and counters? If you answered yes, you might have a dirty little secret in your kitchen! Kitchen sponges and cloths often just spread bacteria from one surface to another resulting in cross-contamination.

Prevent bacteria from growing in your kitchen sponges and cloths by squeezing out as much water as possible between uses. This is important, because bacteria need moisture to grow. Bacteria will not be able to grow or survive in a dry sponge or cloth.

The best way to get rid of bacteria in your kitchen sponge is to microwave it. According to research done by the Agricultural Research Service, you can get rid of 99.99999 percent of bacteria in a kitchen sponge by sanitizing it in a microwave oven. Here’s how to do it: Completely wet the sponge (non-metal only), and while still wet, microwave on high for 1 to 1½ minutes. Caution: Never put a dry sponge in the microwave—it could catch fire. Let the sponge cool before using to prevent burns.

If you use a cloth instead of a sponge, the best way to clean and sanitize it is to wash in a washing machine using hot water and then thoroughly dry in the dryer. Wash kitchen cloths and towels often and always after wiping up raw meat, poultry and seafood spills, or after using them on the kitchen floor.

Other methods are not nearly as effective. Soaking in lemon juice or a chlorine bleach solution will kill 37 to 87 percent of bacteria. This means that there are still a lot of bacteria left that could contaminate surfaces.

For more information on keeping your kitchen clean and your food safe, see HGIC 3495, Food Safety Mistakes You Do Not Want to Make.

Source: USDA Agricultural Research Service. April 2007. Best Ways to Clean Kitchen Sponges. http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/pr/2007/070423.htm.

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