It’s World Health Day today, and this year’s theme is food safety. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), handling, preparing and storing food safely is the key to preventing food-borne diseases. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported that one in every six Americans (or more than 48 million people) in the country get sick from food-borne diseases. And surprisingly enough, a large number of Americans have got sick, just from preparing and eating food at home.
Scary but true—your kitchen is swarming with nasty germs that could make you sick. When scientists from NSF International analyzed a number of kitchens in ordinary American homes, they found a very high assortment of harmful bacteria and microorganisms on kitchen surfaces and appliances.
Here are five major health hazards found in every kitchen, which you could easily fix, and reduce the risk of getting sick:
1. Overstuffed Fridge
Got a fantastic deal on ice-cream and meat pies, and stocked up the fridge and freezer for the month? That’s hazardous to your health (and your waistline!). A fully stocked fridge dips below safe temperatures, and is unable to properly circulate air and cool your food, thus promoting bacterial growth. It’s important that the temperature should be set to 4° C (40°F) or lower inside the fridge, and -18°C (0° F) in your freezer. Cold temperatures prevent and slow the growth of bacteria and microorganisms like E. coli, Salmonella, yeast and mold, that can live in your food and fridge for months. It’s important to clean out the fridge and freezer at least twice in a month, and throw out food that’s expired. Also, don’t forget to wipe down any spills inside, to prevent bacteria from forming.
2. Unclean Chopping Boards
During and after preparing food, it’s not just your hands that need cleaning. Chopping boards have existed for centuries now, and it’s the one thing everyone tends to use over and over again, without washing each time. A new study found that the average kitchen chopping board has around 200 percent more bacteria on it than a toilet seat! Health experts say it’s best to use separate boards for vegetables, meat, poultry and fish, and to clean them immediately once you’re done preparing food. When it comes to choosing a board, surprisingly enough, wooden ones are the best; 90 percent of bacteria on wooden boards don’t survive for long, thereby reducing the risk of contaminating food. The best way to clean any board (wood or plastic) and kill harmful germs is just good old hot water with soap.
3. Stale Sponges & Cloths
In a new survey of American homes, the National Science Foundation found that sponges and dish cloths were the number one source of germs in your kitchen: 86 percent of them had yeast and mold, 77 percent contained Coliform bacteria, and another 18 percent had Staph bacteria; all major causes of food-borne illnesses. Microbiologists found that the most effective way to kill bacteria and other organisms in sponges is to pop them into a microwave for a minute. Or you could just replace your sponges and dish cloths every week. Just remember not to microwave any sponges with metal in them—that’s a fire hazard.
4. Unclean Can Openers
When was the last time you ever cleaned your can opener? This handy kitchen item is used every single day, and comes in contact with practically all of your foods. Most people just use it and return it to the draw without cleaning it, making it a big playground for harmful bacteria and germs. In a recent germ study done by NSF International, it found that can openers in US kitchens tested positive for E. Coli, Salmonella, mold and yeast. Germs breed on leftover food particles stuck to openers, and then are transferred to whatever food items we open next with it. The best way to clean any opener is to mix baking soda with a small amount of water, stir until paste, and then dip a toothbrush into the mixture and scrub the blade area. Then rinse it out with warm water. If your opener is dish washer safe, just throw it in with the dirty dishes every time.
5. Dirty Dishwashers
You probably think it’s the cleanest thing in your kitchen, as it’s filled with soap every day and cleans everything inside it. Even if the inside of your washer seems to be free of icky food stuff, every time you wash a load of dirty dishes and utensils, you transfer plenty of bacteria and health-threatening germs to the machine, which you can’t see. The moist and hot environment even serves as a perfect habitat for many types of fungi, which are known to be very dangerous to human health. Researchers found that 62 percent of dishwashers contained the fungi Exophiala Dermatitidis and E. Phaeomuriformis just on the rubber-band in the door. To keep it clean, at least once in a month, run a full cycle while the machine is empty, and instead of detergent, use a cup of white vinegar. Once the cycle is done, clean and wipe down any removable parts, and also the sides and the door, to destroy mildew and mold that could grow inside.