Everything But the Kitchen Sink

By Anna Sachse

Posted February 18, 2009 in Mind Body Spirit

Would you rather lick your kitchen sink or your toilet seat? I’m guessing you’d select the former. But if your reason is that you’d prefer not to barf, you’d actually be better off with the toilet. Counter intuitive though it may seem, the grodiest place in your house is actually the kitchen, and that harmless looking kitchen sink is a breeding ground for bacteria that can cause fever, cramping, diarrhea and excessive up-chucking. Part of the problem is that we tend to assume that our kitchens aren’t that dirty, which makes us less likely to use the strong cleaners and disinfectants. 


Use the following to pay more heed in the kitchen, before your health goes down the drain.


First—the scare tactics. The biggest contributor to a diseased kitchen is, not surprisingly, food. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one of the most common causes of food-borne illness is Escherichia coli 0157:H7 (E. coli), an organism found mostly in raw ground beef, unpasteurized milk and raw vegetables, sprouts and fruits that have been grown or washed in dirty water (remember the great spinach scare of 2006?). Some people will simply get sick after ingesting E. coli, but it can also be deadly, especially for children, the elderly and people with low immune function. Chicken and other fowl are usually associated with shigella, campylobacter and salmonella (chicken with peanut sauce, anyone?). The classic achy, barfy, poo-ey symptoms usually develop 12 to 72 hours after infection, and last four to seven days. Seafood, particularly shellfish, can be contaminated with the Vibrio species of bacteria that causes diarrhea, or with the hepatitis A virus. Unpasteurized or soft cheeses like brie, as well as some meat, can also be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes, a disease-causing bacterium that can lead to miscarriage. 


But even without tainted meat and dairy, the kitchen can lead to problems thanks to the fact that we often forget to wash our hands before handling our food and kitchen appliances. Most viruses and bacteria that cause colds, flu, food-borne illnesses, ear infections, hepatitis A, strep and staph, are spread by hand-to-hand or hand-to-food contact. In order to avoid getting or spreading these little nasties, wash your hands thoroughly before eating, before preparing food and after cleaning up the food preparation area.


And here are three more major areas that www.healthline.com thinks deserve extra special attention: 


1. Dishrags, towels, sponges and scrubbers. These are the worst. Don’t use a sponge in the kitchen, and do use a clean dishcloth daily. Scrubbers (metal or plastic) should be washed in the dishwasher each time you run it. If you do not have a dishwasher, rinse them thoroughly and then soak them in disinfectant for 10 minutes.


2. Garbage disposal. The film that builds up on the inside of the disposer is teeming with bacteria. At least once a month, use a long-handled angled brush and a chlorinated cleansing powder to scrub the inside walls of the disposal and the underside of the rubber splash guard. Don’t rinse until the next time the disposer is used. Make sure the disposer is off and cannot be turned on while you do it.


3. Sink drains and P-trap. Every couple weeks, before going to bed, pour one cup of hot water into the drain. Wait one minute and then pour in one cup of undiluted chlorine bleach. Allow to stand overnight. Not only will this help sanitize the drain and keep odor down, it will also help keep the drain running freely.


It kind of seems like food poisoning is “in” right now—but in this case, you’re better off being uncool.


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