5 ways to make a kitchen more germ-free

The Progress-Index - At Home - - NEWS - By Kather­ine Roth

Even the ti­di­est kitchens might be har­bor­ing harm­ful bac­te­ria, and of­ten where they're least ex­pected. Pay­ing more at­ten­tion to a few of­ten-over­looked places can help keep your house­hold safer, ex­perts say.

For starters, home cooks should have four watch­words, ac­cord­ing to the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion: clean, sep­a­rate, cook and chill. Watch for cross­con­tam­i­na­tion, par­tic­u­larly with meats and veg­eta­bles; cook ev­ery­thing thor­oughly; and keep both raw and cooked foods suf­fi­ciently cold when needed.

Then, clean­ing a few of­ten-over­looked ar­eas in the kitchen could of­fer ad­di­tional pro­tec­tion from E. coli, Sal­monella, Lis­te­ria, yeast and mold, ac­cord­ing to NSF In­ter­na­tional, a non-profit or­ga­ni­za­tion based in Ann Arbor, Michi­gan, that has been pro­mot­ing proper clean­ing of kitchen tools and ap­pli­ances since the 1940s. NSF In­ter­na­tional has put out rec­om­men­da­tions on kitchen hot spots based on stud­ies done in 2011 and again in 2013:

1. Scary Sponges. "You can ei­ther get away from sponges al­to­gether and use dish cloths or rags, which can be san­i­tized, or, if you do use sponges, put a wet sponge in the mi­crowave for 2 min­utes to kill most of the harm­ful bac­te­ria," said Lisa Yakas, a mi­cro­bi­ol­o­gist with NSF. Betsy Goldberg, home direc­tor for Real Sim­ple mag­a­zine, said, "Many peo­ple mis­tak­enly think that rins­ing a sponge with wa­ter is enough, but sponges re­ally need to be washed in the top rack of the dish­washer or wet and then mi­crowaved for 2 min­utes," and "ob­vi­ously, if it smells or has loose pieces, it's time to throw it away."

2. Ghastly gas­kets: Danger­ous beast­ies can lurk in the hard-to-reach ar­eas un­der the thin, re­mov­able plas­tic gas­kets found around the lids of some food stor­age con­tain­ers, and also around blen­der gas­kets and blades, ac­cord­ing to Yakas. "This one peo­ple re­ally find sur­pris­ing. But think about how many times peo­ple make smooth­ies and just put the blen­der in the dish­washer or rinse it then use it again. In our stud­ies, we found Sal­monella, E. coli, yeast and mold around blen­der blades and gas­kets." She rec­om­mends un­plug­ging blenders, flip­ping them over and un­screw­ing the blade as­sem­bly, then wash­ing all the parts and dry­ing them thor­oughly af­ter ev­ery use. For food stor­age con­tain­ers, any un­at­tached gas­kets should be re­moved, cleaned and dried af­ter ev­ery use, Yakas said.

3. Creepy fridge com­part­ments: "Meat and veg­etable com­part­ments are an­other place few peo­ple think about, but it's where you are stor­ing raw meat and veg­eta­bles that may still have some soil residue," Yakas said. "Keep ev­ery­thing raw and cooked separately, and re­move the com­part­ments and wash them with warm soapy wa­ter about ev­ery two or four weeks, depend­ing on your house­hold needs." Goldberg sug­gests re­mov­ing them ev­ery so of­ten and soak­ing them in the sink in hot, soapy wa­ter for 15 min­utes. "While they are soak­ing, you can douse the in­side of the fridge with a dis­in­fect­ing spray," she said. "Wipe down the walls and then each shelf, and use a tooth­brush spritzed with cleaner to get in the crevices. Af­ter 15 min­utes, drain the wa­ter and sprin­kle the com­part­ments in bak­ing soda, then wipe them clean with a wet sponge."

4. Sep­a­rate the spat­u­las and clean the can opener: Can open­ers should be washed in the dish­washer or at least hand-washed af­ter ev­ery use, pay­ing at­ten­tion to re­mov­ing any food residue on the blade, Yakas said. "And a lot of peo­ple are sur­prised to find that a lot of spat­u­las and scrap­ers are ac­tu­ally com­posed of two pieces that pull apart, and that the in­side part can har­bor Sal­monella, E.coli and yeast," she said. "Just pull it apart, clean with soapy wa­ter, rinse and thor­oughly dry." Goldberg said, "Ide­ally, if you have time, it's a good idea to go be­yond the can opener and spat­ula parts, take all the tools out of your drawer and wipe the in­side of the drawer and the uten­sil hold­ers with a dis­in­fect­ing wipe, then dry it all thor­oughly."

5. Wash wa­ter dis­pensers and cof­fee reser­voirs: "Our stud­ies found yeast and mold in re­frig­er­a­tor wa­ter dis­pensers, which might be an is­sue for peo­ple with al­ler­gies," said Yakas. Most sys­tems can be cleaned with a vine­gar so­lu­tion, she said. "Cof­fee ma­chine reser­voirs are also dark and damp and are great places for mold and mildew to grow," she said. "It's a good idea to pour about 4 cups of white vine­gar in the reser­voir and run the vine­gar through the unit, fol­lowed by two to three wash cy­cles of wa­ter. This should re­ally be done ev­ery 40 to 80 brew cy­cles, or at least monthly," she said.

AP PHO­TOS/NSF IN­TER­NA­TIONAL

This photo pro­vided by NSF In­ter­na­tional shows a blen­der and its blades in the gas­ket. In a 2013 house­hold germ study, NSF In­ter­na­tional found Sal­monella, E. coli, yeast and mold hid­den in blen­der gas­kets.

This photo pro­vided by NSF In­ter­na­tional shows a stor­age con­tainer and its protective seal. Donít for­get to re­move the rub­ber seal from food stor­age con­tain­ers be­fore clean­ing says NSF In­ter­na­tional. Even the ti­di­est kitchens might be har­bor­ing harm­ful bac­te­ria, of­ten where theyíre least ex­pected. Pay­ing more at­ten­tion to a few of­ten-over­looked places can help keep your house­hold safer.

In this photo pro­vided by NSF In­ter­na­tional, to avoid cross­con­tam­i­na­tion, NSF In­ter­na­tional rec­om­mends stor­ing veg­eta­bles in a sep­a­rate drawer above the meat com­part­ment to avoid raw juices drip­ping onto the pro­duce. Even the ti­di­est kitchens might be har­bor­ing harm­ful bac­te­ria, of­ten where theyíre least ex­pected. Pay­ing more at­ten­tion to a few of­ten-over­looked places can help keep your house­hold safer.

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