E. Coli, Salmonella, Staphylococcus. Recognize these names? Bacteria! Bad bacteria! Did you know that these menacing bacteria, in addition to yeasts and molds, have been found to live on kitchen sponges (you know, the ones you often clean your dishes with)?! To make matters worse, one bacteria cell can multiply within 24 hours to more than 8 million cells! To get sick, the bacteria count for a particular strain can be anywhere from ten to millions of cells. When counters are wiped with the sponge, the bacteria is spread all over the surfaces where hands and foods touch it.
In a study conducted by Agriculture Research Service in Beltsville, Maryland, microbiologists found two effective ways of killing the bacteria harbored in kitchen sponges. They began by testing five different methods for killing bacteria to see which would prove most effective. The result? Simply by tossing the sponge in the dishwasher with a heated dry cycle, 99.998% of the bacteria were killed. The most effective method of killing bacteria was to microwave the sponge for 60 seconds, which killed 99.99999.
The other three other methods of testing were inferior to the previous two. Soaking the sponge in bleach, in lemon juice or deionized water for 10 minutes, and leaving it untreated only killed between 37-87% of the bacteria. I was surprised to hear about the cholorine bleach having less effect than the dishwasher and microwave!
The sponge treated by dishwasher or microwave were also found to harbor less than 1 percent of yeasts and molds while 6.7-63% remained on sponges that were treated with the other methods!
I was happy to hear about the dishwasher method because I began doing this a few months ago at the end of each day. I had performed a test one day, just out of curiosity. I had put my kitchen sponge in a bowl full of hydrogen peroxide. The result:
Gross! You can barely see the sponge! That was the final straw and when I began tossing it in the dishwasher.
In addition to killing bacteria, I wanted to be more frugal. I was sick of buying sponges! I have not bought another package of sponges since last year!
So what about dish towels? While they harbor bacteria also, the risk of spreading it is not as high because they dry much faster. I would recommend tossing it in the hamper at the end of the day and putting a clean one out to use.
Moral of the story: our kitchens might not be as squeaky clean as we think they are!