A few months ago, I remember walking up to the kitchen sink at work, dirty plate in hand, and taking one reach for the sponge– before catching a whiff of the most foul-smelling thing I’ve ever smelled in the office.
Was it something in the sink? Considering we like to keep the sink pretty empty, it wasn’t hard to sift through the few dishes and realize that nope, that smell was definitely not coming from something in there. Was it something on the counter? Like the sink, the counter is usually pretty bare– all it took was one sweeping look from one end of the counter to the other to realize that there was no foul-smelling thing on its surface, either.
Suddenly, it hit me. With one long, slow look down towards the sponge I was now gripping in my opposite hand, I realized the nasty smell was coming from the squishy scrubber.
As it turns out, that’s not as isolated of a kitchen experience as I would have liked to imagine– and the fact of the matter is, that kitchen sponge was probably just as gross as it smelled.
That’s because that despicable sponge smell is telling you all you need to know: “Where there is odor, there are germs,” said Dr. Philip Tierno, a clinical professor at the Microbiology and Pathology departments at NYU Langone.
But don’t worry, as there is hope for a cleaner kitchen without needing to drop the sponge as a do-it-all cleaning tool. The best way to sanitize dishware is using chlorine bleach. Specifically, you can concoct a disinfecting solution when you mix bleach with water. Simply put your sponge in the solution for 30 seconds, and all of those germs hanging on for dear life will be exterminated, Tierno said.
Even if you’re a clean eater who stays away from meat (which harbors the most potentially-harmful food pathogens), “vegetable matter” might also carry these harmful germs, Tierno goes on. Whether it’s E.coli, which can lead to things like urinary tract infections and even pneumonia, or salmonella, among others, you do not want to increase your likelihood of encountering these harrowing pathogens.
He recommends “keeping a container of the solution” around for whenever you find yourself needing to use the sponge. Once the sponge has been soaked, ring it out and hang it up to dry: Dryness keeps bacteria from growing, Tierno offers, though it will not kill bacteria already present.
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