Keep your kitchen from making you sick! Of course, we don't live in a germ free environment, but the kitchen can really be germ central. Bugs (bacteria) feed on the basic food we survive on - water and sugars. They migrate from hands to sinks, counter tops and eventually to your food.
Sponges are usually the dirtiest thing in the kitchen, harboring everything from coliform, yeast, & mold to staph & strep. Food and Drug Administration's Food Code prohibits their use in restaurants and health care facilities (nursing home kitchens, etc.) The reason they become cesspools is because they come in contact with food residues that get trapped in the various nooks and crannies which provide nutrients for bacterial growth, and are often left in damp or wet areas near the sink. They are also very difficult to sanitize properly. Soaking them in 10% household bleach or running them through the dishwasher does nothing to reduce bacteria! Microwaving at full power for one minute is most effective, just make sure the sponge is wet to avoid a fire, and it does not contain any metal. Better yet, start with a fresh one every day. Dishcloths are the best option, as they can be laundered regularly.
Cleaning counter tops and appliances with soap is enough to kill bacteria. It's more important to keep things clean than to have things disinfected. Most disinfectants don't work until AFTER the surface has been cleaned. Oils and such leave even bleach ineffective. Some chemicals are not safe for use around food, and always rinse items that have been bleached. Home made disinfectants such as vinegar or baking soda are usually too weak to be effective. Never store cleaning or other chemicals together with food items.
Garbage disposals have been found to harbor E coli, Listeria, and even Salmonella. Soaking or rinsing salad greens in your sink is not recommended, since bacteria can come from the drains. Use a colander or bowl, and rinse sinks/drains and disposals with a bleach solution (1T. bleach to 1 gal. water) on a weekly basis.
Which cutting board is safer - wood or plastic? It doesn't matter. It is the integrity of the surface that matters. Cuts and scratches let in food particles. Special anti-microbial boards are a waste of money, since the bacteria cling to the grease or food particles and not the treated fibers of the board. Just clean all boards thoroughly with soap and water, or use a dishwasher. Replace worn and chipped boards.
Microwave ovens cook by bombarding the food with electric waves - not heat. And they only hit one local spot at a time. They are not "self cleaning." Wash the insides often. Killing all microbes on reheated food is also a challenge, since they don't heat the food evenly. Bacteria still thrives on the cold spots. When reheating foods, allow "standing time" or time for the entire article to heat by induction. Make sure your microwave has enough wattage to cook food properly (1,100 watts or more). And always reheat in microwave-safe containers! Use glass (Pyrex or Corning ware) , paper, wax paper. Plastics and styrofoam melt, leaching harmful and toxic chemicals into the food.
Keep your refrigerator at 40F degrees or lower, and wash the insides regularly with soap & water. The cool temps only SLOW the bacterial growth. Even freezing only suspends bacterial growth. It will resume proliferation when the items thaw. Freezers should be kept at 0 F to keep foods at optimal freshness.
Your dishwasher, however may be your best defense for spreading illness, since the detergents are much stronger and the drying heat gives an additional kill factor.
As always, wash your hands. Studies continue to prove that proper hand washing is one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of illness and infection, according to the Center for Disease Control. The water does not need to be hot - it is the length of scrubbing time (20 seconds) and the degree of friction that's important. Also, antibacterial soaps do not show to be any more effective in reducing bacteria than proper washing with ordinary soap, according to The Food & Drug Administration. Studies are still questioning the safety of the ingredient triclosan in many antibacterial soap products. (Exposure to high levels have been linked to suppressed thyroid hormone levels). OOOPS!