Doctors recommend replacing kitchen sponges frequently

Germs are everywhere, yet undetectable by the human eye.  According to a flyer from the Minnesota Department of Health, germs hide in places we use most frequently.

A scientific study found there are 229,000 germs per square inch on commonly used faucet handles.  The same study found there were more germs in kitchen sinks than in bathrooms.

What’s worse is the very tools intended to clean kitchen surfaces could be one of the biggest problems.  We use sponges and dishrags to clean countertops, cutting boards and dishes.

Dr. George Alonso is the Director of Infection Prevention and Control at Elmhurst Hospital in New York.  He said replacing reusable sponges is just as important to decreasing health hazards as is keeping cooking surfaces clean.

“It all depends on the health of a person and the type of food they prepare,” Dr. Alonso said.  “For example, if someone is vegetarian, the type of bacteria on their cutting board is going to be much different than someone who is a meat eater.”

Dr. Alonso said other factors like surface type and temperature can affect how much bacteria clings to sponges and dishrags.

“It’s easier to get certain bacteria off of steel and Formica than wood,” Dr. Alonso said.  “It also depends on temperature.  The colder a surface is, the better.”

Even with cool temperatures, bacteria can cling to cleaning tools faster than most people think.

“They’ve studied this using incredible contamination techniques including submerging items in contaminated beef broths,” Dr. Alonso said.  “Studies showed that sponges can get contaminated after just a minute.”

Companies like 3M and Scotch-Brite have targeted this issue by recommending sanitizing sponges in the dishwasher.

Dr. Alonso also recommends taking precautionary actions if reusing disposable sponges.

“Clean it and microwave a damp sponge for 4-12 minutes on high power,” Dr. Alonso said.  “This technique kills up to 99 percent of most pathogens.”

As for maintaining a clean and safe home, Dr. Alonso said to clean surfaces immediately after handling raw foods and to replace sponges with clean, unused ones often.