You share your home with countless microorganisms. Most of these are harmless, and some can even be beneficial.
However, a few pathogens—disease-causing bacteria, viruses, or fungi—can make you sick.
And while you might be focused on keeping your bathroom clean to avoid these harmful microbes, kitchens are typically the most heavily colonized by the broadest diversity of bacteria and pathogenic organisms.
An Underestimated Danger
Many people associate food poisoning with restaurants, often underestimating their home kitchen’s role in harboring and spreading food-borne illnesses.
Surveys have shown less than 10% of people believe their kitchen and home-prepared foods are capable of giving them food poisoning. Public health experts estimate that a high percentage of food-borne illnesses are contracted in the home, possibly accounting for as much as 95% of cases.
This underestimation of risk can be dangerous, as the consequences of food-borne illness can range from mild gastric distress to life-threatening infections and long-term health issues.
Sponges and Dishcloths
Your kitchen sponge or dishcloth may be one of the dirtiest things in your home. These common cleaning tools are often damp, which creates the perfect environment for bacteria to grow.
And while you might think that simply running them under hot water would be enough to kill harmful microbes, this is often not the case.
These cleaning tools are meant to wipe away dirt, grime, and food particles from your dishes and utensils, but without proper care, they will spread these contaminants rather than remove them.
The sponge, dishcloths, and towels should be replaced frequently—after every use is best. Throw the sponge away, use a new one, and launder the dishcloths and towels between uses.
Another common culprit in the spread of food-borne illness is your kitchen sink. The sink is a prime breeding ground for bacteria and can easily contaminate your hands, dishes, utensils, and countertops.
To keep your sink clean, wash it with hot, soapy water or a disinfectant after each use. Use a brush to scrub away any food particles or grease, and be sure to clean under the rim. Additionally, clean your drain, disposal, and faucet regularly to prevent the build-up of bacteria.
Raw meat, poultry, and seafood can spread harmful bacteria to your cutting board, contaminating your food.
To prevent this, use separate cutting boards for different foods—one for raw meats, one for produce, and one for cooked foods.
A quick rinse between uses is not enough. To properly clean your cutting boards, wash them with hot, soapy water or a disinfectant and scrub them with a clean brush or sponge.
Refrigerators and Food Storage
Your refrigerator and food storage areas can also harbor harmful bacteria. These areas tend to be overlooked or not cleaned as often, which can lead to the build-up of bacterial colonies.
To keep these areas clean:
- Start by throwing away any expired or spoiled food.
- Wash the shelves and drawers with hot, soapy water or a disinfectant.
- Make sure you clean all parts of the doors and handles and any areas where food is stored.
The more frequently and thoroughly you clean your entire kitchen, the less likely you, your family, and your guests are to contract a food-borne illness. Don’t underestimate the importance of cleanliness in the kitchen—it could mean the difference between a delicious meal and a trip to the hospital.