Your nasty, disgusting, no good kitchen sponge

January 29, 2016

Have you made a few extremely unpleasant trips to the bathroom recently, all the while doing something like cursing your weird Uncle Dan’s ill-advised first attempt at steak tartare?

Well, it’s probably never a good idea to trust a weird uncle’s first attempt at a raw meat recipe, but there is something in most of our kitchens that is likely just as bad: your kitchen sponge.

"That thing is very dirty," said Philip Tierno, a microbiologist and pathologist at the New York University School of Medicine, in a recent article. "Mainly because you're cleaning up vegetables, carcasses of meat, and all sorts of food stuff that can potentially contain pathogenic [disease-causing] bacteria that will grow in numbers over time."

The article states that sponges are ideal breeding grounds for microbes because they supply them with a nourishing, warm, moist environment, and tons of food. Because of this, kitchen sponges have been known to harbor all kinds of nasty bacteria, including Campylobacter, Salmonella, Staphylococcus, E. coli, and Listeria — all of which can cause mild to severe food poisoning.

Just how nasty, disgusting, no good dirty can a kitchen sponge be? Well, according to research, a kitchen sponge can be 200,000 times dirtier than an average toilet seat!

“Always the dirtiest thing by far is the kitchen sponge,” said John Oxford, professor of virology at the University of London and chair of the Hygiene Council, in the article that searched for sources of pathogens in homes, and compared the cleanliness of kitchen sponges to toilet seats.

So, what is a person to do to clean up after Uncle Dan? Experts suggest it’s safer to use disposable paper towels than to potentially spread pathogens around your kitchen with a nasty sponge.

If you do use sponges in the kitchen, the Michigan State University Extension service suggests you sanitize the sponge in one of three ways between uses:

  1. In the microwave. Make sure the sponge is completely wet to avoid a fire, and put in the microwave for one minute on high. Be careful taking it out!
  2. In the dishwasher. Be sure to use the hottest and longest cycle on your dishwasher, and the dry cycle. According to the USDA microwaving sponges kills 99.99999% of bacteria present on them, while dishwashing kills 99.9998% of bacteria.
  3. Use bleach. Use a solution of one-quarter to one-half of a teaspoon of concentrated bleach (8.25% sodium hypochlorite) per quart of warm, not hot water, and soak for one minute.

Category: Food Safety, Life Sciences, Food & Beverage, Healthcare, Public Health, Pathogens, Sanitation & Hygiene