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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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Clean the cutting board.
Cracks and crevices in your cutting board provide plenty of space for bacteria to grow. "The average cutting board has about 200% more fecal bacteria than the average toilet seat," Gerba says. "People don't disinfect cutting boards," he says, and they should. "Don't cut up chicken and then salad on the same cutting board without disinfecting it," he stresses. Better yet, "use separate boards for raw meat and making salads." Plus, he says it's important to clean and disinfect inside the fridge, microwave, cupboards and other surfaces that come into frequent contact with food.

Dust out the drain.
The drains in both your kitchen sink and bathtub provide yet another moist hideaway for bacteria. "To kill these bugs where they live use baking soda and an old toothbrush to get rid of stains, grit, and grime around drains," Schachter says. "Disinfect drains regularly as you would any other surface."

Put away your glassware.
Flu season spans from November through March, while cold season runs from about September until March or April. "To assure that no one drinks from the same glass, use paper cups during cold and flu season," Schachter says. And try using color coded paper cups: Assign each member of the household a different color.

Wash your hands before meals and snacks.
It really works. "In the kitchen the No. 1 time to wash your hands and make sure your kids do, too, is before you eat anything," Schachter says. "Use soap and water and a little elbow grease," he says. "Anti-bacterial soap is a good idea for extra protection. People who wash hands seven times a day have about 40% fewer colds than the average person," he says.

Don't share hand towels.
After you wash your hands, dry them with a paper towel -- not a communal hand towel that can be a safe haven for germs, Schachter says.

Eat an apple a day to keep the doctor away.
While there is not a direct correlation between nutrients and immunity, "children who eat poorly and don't take in enough calories have weaker immune systems and are more likely to pick up a cold or flu," Schachter says. Make sure your refrigerator is stocked with healthy fruits, vegetables, and snacks year-round.

Have it well-done.
Cooking food thoroughly and evenly will reduce the number of germs. Generally, the higher the temperature reached, the more germs are killed. "Also, wash salads, fruits, and vegetables thoroughly in clean water to remove all traces of soil, insects, or pesticides," Schachter says. Eat cooked food immediately. Or cool and refrigerate it within one hour. And never reheat food more than once, he says. It's also a good idea to keep your refrigerator at or below 37°F. This will help slow down the growth of germs in your chilled food. Keep freezers at or below 0°F.

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Reviewed on October 18, 2007

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