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Germs in the Kitchen

The kitchen harbors more germs than any other room in the home. Here are 10 tips to protect your family.
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WebMD Feature

While bathrooms get a bad rap when it comes to germs, it's the kitchen that actually harbors more bacteria than any other room in the home.

And these germs -- the same ones that can cause a cold or flu to spread through a household like wildfire - lurk everywhere from the sponges you use to clean your countertop to your cutting board and the drain in your sink.

Still not concerned? Consider this: One single bacteria cell can become more than 8 million cells in less than 24 hours! The number of bacteria it takes to make people sick can range from as few as 10 up to millions. And infections spread when germs are transferred from a contaminated item (say, your cutting board) to your hands to your body.

But a little hygiene can help keep your kitchen bug-free this cold and flu season. Here are 10 ways to get started:

Zap away bugs.
Kitchen sponges are the No. 1 source of germs in the whole house. Why? The moist, micro-crevices that make a sponge such an effective cleaning device also make it a cozy home for germs and more difficult to disinfect. Wiping your counters or dishes with a dirty sponge will only transfer the bacteria from one item to another. "Wet your sponge and then pop it in the microwave for two minutes to eliminate the germs that lurk inside the crevices," says Neil Schachter, MD, medical director of respiratory care at Mount Sinai in New York City, and the author of The Good Doctor's Guide to Colds and Flu.

Practice good dishrag etiquette.
Your dish rags are really no better than your sponges. And like sponges, using a dirty dish rag to clean a kitchen countertop will only spread germs. Your best bet is to replace rags about once a week. "Allow them to dry out between uses because most bacteria thrive only in moistness," Schachter says. In fact, they can only survive a few hours on dry surfaces. "Rags should be washed in the washing machine and then dried on high heat," he says.

Wipe away germs.
Faucet handles, refrigerator door handles, and doorknobs are next on the list of kitchen culprits that aid and abet germs. Use disinfectant spray or wipes on sink faucets, refrigerator handles, stove handles, cupboard handles, trashcans, doorknobs, and any other area that you touch with your hands. "These sprays or wipes kill germs on contact," explains Schachter. "This is really important and should be done several times a day before and after touching these objects," he says. "Don't forget to wipe down the telephone," adds Charles Gerba, PhD, a professor of microbiology at University of Arizona in Tucson. "A lot of times, someone is cooking and has a question for the original chef, so he or she calls their parents to find out how to make it and the bacteria gets slopped on the phone and it grows."

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