Are Your Kitchen Surfaces and Sponges Really Clean?

Reviewed by Barbara Gordon, RDN, LD
cleaning stove

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You can find illness-causing germs all around your kitchen. So, it's important not only to wash your hands, but also to clean kitchens surfaces and sponges to prevent the spread of bacteria.

Kitchen Surfaces

Use hot soapy water to clean kitchen surfaces after preparing each food item. Wipe down your appliances, countertops, utensils and cutting boards. Keeping cutting boards and surfaces clean prevents cross-contamination that could cause food poisoning. Wash dishwasher-safe materials in a hot washing and drying cycle.

Also, as an additional precaution, mix one tablespoon of unscented liquid chlorine bleach in one gallon of water and use it to sanitize washed surfaces and utensils.

Sponge and Dishtowel Safety

Dishcloths and sponges are the cleaning tools of choice for most Americans. Ensure that they are clean — follow these do's and don'ts.

 

DO DON’T
Clean Sponges Daily
Microwave damp sponge for one minute or put them in the dishwasher with a drying cycle. The UDSA found that this kills over 99 percent of bacteria, yeasts and molds.

Or, mix one-quarter to one-half teaspoon of concentrated bleach in per quart of warm water. Soak the sponge for one minute.
Be a Scrooge
Nearly one in four of us keeps sponges until they look dirty or smell bad. Plus, 17 percent wait until sponges fall apart before throwing them out. About 1 in 5 people keep their kitchen sponges for three to four weeks. And, one in 10 for a month or longer.

Don’t be a scrooge. Throw out used, smelly sponges. And don't wait until they're falling apart to get a new one.
Start a New Cycle
Wash dishtowels and dishcloths frequently. Put them in the hot cycle of your washing machine and dry thoroughly on a high setting.
Wipe Up Meat Juices
Use a paper towel or disinfectant wipes to clean up spills from ground beef or poultry.

Cleaning up spills with a sponge can increase your chances of spreading harmful foodborne pathogens.
Replace Frequently
Even after two or three uses, your sponge may be teeming with bacteria. Replace it regularly.

If your sponge starts to smell at any point — toss it out immediately.
Use on Countertops
Many sponges contain millions of bacteria. And, it only takes a few to get you sick.

Use a paper towel or disinfectant wipe to clean countertops. This help reduce the chances of spreading germs with your sponge.
Keep it Dry
Wring out your sponge completely after each use and wash off any loose food or debris.

Store it in a dry location. Letting your sponge lay wet on a countertop takes longer for it to dry and allows bacteria to grow.

Also, avoid leaving any damp sponges in an enclosed area such as a bucket or under the sink.
Ignore Dishcloths
Launder dishcloths frequently as they can harbor enough harmful bacteria to make you sick.

Wash in hot water and dry them on high heat in the dryer. And, consider having separate dishcloths for different purposes (e.g. hand-washing and dish drying). Different colored towels can help keep them straight, i.e., blue for hands, green for the counter.

Download: Kitchen Sponge Safety Tip Sheet

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