By Katherine Allen
Do you pride yourself on your domestic hygiene? Do you think of your kitchen as a germ-free zone? Well, if you use a kitchen sponge—you might have to think again.
The absorbency of a sponge is the very reason why so many of us have them in our kitchens in the first place. We use them to mop up spillages from drinks and food, we use them to wash plates, cutlery and cooking utensils, and we use them to wipe down kitchen surfaces.
But absorbency is not always a good thing, as sponges will often suck up far more than what we initially intended. Your sponge could also be absorbing, and becoming contaminated by, potentially harmful bacteria. And, as a sponge is often left damp after use, it becomes an ideal environment for the bacteria to multiply. No doubt we have all seen headlines from time to time proclaiming that the kitchen sponge is many times dirtier than a toilet seat, and, with studies showing that kitchen sponges can contain 10 million bacteria per square inch, such claims are hard to refute.
Contaminants including bacteria such as salmonella, campylobacter and E-coli, as well as viruses like norovirus, may all be passed via the kitchen sponge to humans. Before you know it, you have a food poisoning outbreak on your hands that affects one member of the family after another like a wave. While the symptoms of such an illness might only last a couple of weeks for the majority of people, in some instances individuals can experience more serious, long lasting conditions such as post-infective irritable bowel syndrome and even organ failure.
There is a lot of advice available about how kitchen sponges should themselves be cleaned to reduce to risk of disease. The International Scientific Forum on Home Hygiene (IFH) recommends that they should be hygienically cleaned after every use either by:
- Washing them in a washing machine at 140 degrees fahrenheit
- Cleaning with detergent and warm water, then rinsing them and immersing them in disinfectant solution which is effective against bacteria and viruses for at least 20 minutes
- Cleaning them with detergent and water and then immersing them in boiling water for 20 minutes
The sponge must be left to dry once it has been cleaned in any of these ways.
However, it is not always practical in a busy household to follow such a routine every time a sponge has been used so the IFH have also suggested using disposable sponges and cloths as an alternative.
The Internet provides a wealth of advice on this issue and, per-haps unsurprisingly, the advice as to how often a kitchen sponge should be replaced conflicts from one site to another. Some suggest it should be replaced weekly, others suggest fortnightly and then some recommend that a monthly change is sufficient. So what do you do?
Trust your judgment. You know what you use your kitchen sponge for day-to-day and it is clear that there are no hard and fast rules. What can be said is that the higher the risk of contamination, the more frequently you will want to switch your sponge. The health of you and your family depends upon it!