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Air Dry Your Dishes

WebMD Health News

Aug. 17, 2001 -- The next time you put your clean dishes away, you may want to be extra careful they're dry.

Why? Because dishes stored away while wet can become contaminated with bacteria, according to a study in the August issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.

"Any time you hold wet dishes you have the chance they'll get recontaminated, because a moist, warm environment provides good conditions for bacterial growth," says Nancy Reed, RD, LD. "There are bacteria everywhere. If at all possible, do dry your dishes before you store them." Reed, who was not involved in the study, is clinical nutrition director for Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, Md.

In the study, researchers identified bacteria on 100 dishes used to serve food at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Portland, Ore., and then all of them were washed in a commercial dishwasher. Half of them were air-dried for 24 hours, while half were stacked while wet. "No significant difference was found between air-dried and and wet-nested plates in the first 24 hours, but a significant difference was found after 48 hours," the authors write.

A food code developed by the FDA specifies that all dishes should be air-dried before being stacked and stored. However, most of us can recall walking into a cafeteria and pulling a wet plate from a stack of dishes.

"That's happened to me so many times," says Nelda Mercer RD. "In a huge establishment, plates don't stay in the stack very long, because turnover is so great. This study found bacterial contamination when plates were stacked wet for more than 24 hours, and that suggests there might be a real problem in places like a church kitchen or community center if plates are stacked wet and then left to sit for a substantial time. Anytime you use volunteers to cook or serve food, make sure they are trained in safe food-handling practices." Mercer is a nutrition specialist consultant for the Michigan Department of Community Health and a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.

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