Did you know that about 9% of foodborne illness outbreaks occur in the home and it’s almost impossible to tell where the bacteria may live with the naked eye?
Research has identified the top kitchen items that are commonly cross-contaminated during the preparation of a meal (yuck!). Infectious disease specialist Susan Rehm, MD, outlines these top kitchen contaminators and how to make sure you don’t get sick.
1. Cloth towel
Like sponges, cloth towels were the most frequently contaminated article in the kitchen. How many times have you used a towel to wipe off the counter after cooking, washed your hands, and then wiped your clean hands with that same towel? It happens more often than you think.
“One of the best ways to prevent cross-contamination in the kitchen is to use paper towels,” says Dr. Rehm.
Research also shows that salmonella grows on cloths stored overnight, even after they were washed and rinsed in the sink. To minimize the risk of contamination, either strictly use paper towels or use a new, clean cloth for each surface in your kitchen. Be sure to wash your towels with bleach or other disinfectants before using them again.
2. Smartphone or tablet
Just like if you take your phone to the bathroom with you, anything you touch in the kitchen following contact with raw meat can become contaminated. That includes your smartphone or tablet you use to follow a recipe or answer a call.
“Either don’t use it or clean it as frequently as you would wash your hands,” she says.
Consider covering your device with clear plastic or printing out the recipe so you don’t have to touch your device. If you don’t want to print it out, make sure to disinfect your phone afterward.
To disinfect your phone, Dr. Rehm recommends following these steps:
- Take the case off and turn your phone or tablet off completely.
- Mist a gentle cleaning cloth with 70% isopropyl alcohol.
- Gently wipe down each corner of your phone or tablet.
- Wipe down your case and any phone accessories with the same solution.
- Let dry completely before turning your device on.
Never use harsh chemicals on your devices. Double-check with your phone brand on the proper way to disinfect their products so you don’t end up ruining your expensive tech.
3. Sink faucet, refrigerator, oven handle, trash container
When was the last time you disinfected your sink faucet, refrigerator, oven, or trash can?
“During food prep, be aware that there are bacteria in food, and touching it can spread it to other surfaces and potentially cause illness,” says Dr. Rehm. “Common bacteria found in the kitchen include E.coli, salmonella, shigella, campylobacter, norovirus, and hepatitis A.”
E.coli can survive for hours on a surface, salmonella can survive for about four hours and hepatitis A can survive for months. If those numbers make you nervous, lessen your chances of getting those germs by disinfecting each surface that bacteria could have come into contact with. And yes, that means wiping down or spraying each surface in your kitchen that you worked at just to be sure.
4. Cooking utensils
With so many different kitchen utensils, it’s important to be aware of how you use them, too.
“When you use tongs or a fork to put raw poultry on the grill, you should wash it immediately afterward if you plan to use the same tools to serve the meal,” says Dr. Rehm.
Sanitize your utensils by hand-washing in hot, soapy water and sanitizing solution. Make sure to air-dry them completely before putting them away into the cupboard.
Believe it or not, it’s common for people to not wash their hands with the frequency or quality needed to reduce bacterial contamination.
“When preparing food, it’s wise to wash hands beforehand, frequently throughout, and afterward,” says Dr. Rehm.
Each time you handle raw meat, wash your hands. Lather your hands with soap (don’t forget your nails, between your fingers and the back of your hands!) Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds, and then use a paper towel to dry them and turn off the water faucets and don’t reuse it. Throw the used paper towel away immediately after use.
6. Fruit and vegetables
Bacteria can be found on your favorite fruit and veggies.
If you’re not careful, that bacteria could cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Cleaning up is less effective than not contaminating it in the first place, so make it a habit to keep surfaces as clean as possible the first time to avoid cross-contamination.