How HEALTHY is your kitchen?

kitchen

It might be the heart of the home but with a few easy-to-make mistakes your kitchen can also be a prime source of bad health for your family, courtesy of bacteria and bad habits.

​Think you've heard it all before on the topic of keeping your kitchen safe and clean? Keep reading. From the unlikely places that germs thrive to how you can accidentally overdose on common medicines, here are 10 tips that'll help ensure your kitchen is one of the healthiest rooms in the house.

​ACTION: CLEAN : TARGET: The kitchen sink

​The research says: that the average kitchen sink contains 100,000 times more germs than a toilet. In fact, according to a study released by the Hygiene Council, a global organisation dedicated to helping prevent the spread of infection, 46 per cent of sinks contain unsatisfactory or heavily contaminated levels of bacteria. Meanwhile, Irish researchers report finding raw meat bacteria in at least 60 per cent of sinks.

Fix it: Wash the sides and bottom of the sink using a disinfectant or antibacterial cleaner, at least twice weekly.

​ACTION: WASH

​TARGET: Reusable, 'green' grocery bags

​The research says: that 97 per cent of people have never washed their reusable bags. "Our findings suggest a serious threat to public health, especially from coliform bacteria including E coli, which were detected in half of the bags sampled," says the University of Arizona's Professor Charles Gerba, co-author of a study designed to examine how safe reusable bags are where food is concerned. Worse still, when meat juices leak onto the fabric and are left for two hours in the boot of a car, the number of bacteria increases tenfold.

Fix it: Washing reusable bags in a washing machine reduces bacteria by 99.9 per cent, something researchers recommend doing weekly. Other tips include separating raw foods from other food products and not using bags for non-food purposes.

​ACTION: REMOVE

​TARGET: Water-soluble vitamins and health supplements

​The research says: high humidity and temperature spikes that occur in the kitchen can trigger a process called deliquescence, where water-soluble solids dissolve in supplements such as vitamin C and some forms of vitamin B - even when the bottle lids are tightly in place.

​"If you get some moisture present or ingredients dissolve, they'll decrease the quality and shelf life of the product and the nutrient delivery," says Dr Lisa Mauer from Purdue University in the US. "Within a week you can get complete loss of vitamin C in some products."

Fix it: Store and open vitamins in a dry place - which means the bathroom is out too. Discard supplements with signs of damage: Dr Mauer says a sure sign of nutrient degradation is brown spots or clumping.

​ACTION: RELOCATE

​TARGET: Hot pots, pans and jugs

​The research says: that 76 per cent of toddlers, some as young as 12 months, can reach up and onto kitchen worktops "much farther than anticipated", says study author David Allasio, from the Children's Hospital of Michigan. Many of the younger children were able to reach the work surfaces by standing on their tiptoes - a milestone which, according to the study, isn't expected until 22 months of age and puts them at risk of severe burns from hot liquids.

Fix it: Researchers urge parents to place hot and potentially dangerous liquids and objects towards the back of the countertop, closest to the wall or splashback.

​ACTION: MICROWAVE

​TARGET: Kitchen sponges

​The research says: that 90 per cent of kitchen sponges contain levels of disease-causing bacteria that the Hygiene Council would classify as 'unsatisfactory or worse'. Use that sponge to wipe other surfaces in your kitchen and you risk spreading the germs - part of the reason a worldwide study found 1 9 per cent of kitchen surfaces were contaminated with E coli.

Fix it: Regularly replacing sponges is a must, but even among Americans who reported changing theirs weekly, 80 per cent of sponges still had worryingly high levels of bacteria. US scientists say microwaving kitchen cloths daily is one solution: one minute in a microwave oven kills 99.9 per cent of sponge-dwelling bacteria.

​ACTION: REFRIGERATE

​TARGET: Defrosting meat

​The research says: although allowing meat to thaw at room temperature is risky, more than 50 per cent of people surveyed for a study designed to examine food-safety knowledge say it's their preferred way to defrost meat. According to Australia's Food Safety Information Council, because the meat closest to the surface defrosts quickly and is left sitting at temperatures greater than 5#dgC, by the time the meat is completely defrosted it could be covered in bugs, like salmonella and campylobacter, that can survive cooking.

Fix it: Defrost meat in the fridge or in the microwave. In the fridge, make sure raw or frozen meat is placed on the lowest shelf or in a completely sealed container. And if you do use the microwave, cook defrosted meat immediately after thawing.

​ACTION: DON'T WASH

​TARGET: Raw meat

​The research says: that due to the splash created by running tap water, rinsing raw meat can easily cross-contaminate kitchen surfaces with germs that cause food poisoning. Investigations by the UK's Food Standards Agency found that when raw meat is washed, bacteria travels more than 90cm around the sink.

Fix it: Focus on thoroughly washing and drying the chopping boards and utensils used to prepare raw meat before moving onto another task - something that Irish researchers say as many as 72 per cent of us fail to do properly.

​ACTION: REPLACE

​TARGET: Kitchen spoons when you're administering medicine

​The research says: that depending on the size of the spoon, you'll either short-change yourself by eight per cent or overdose by 12 per cent. "Twelve per cent more may not sound like a lot, but this goes on every four to eight hours, for up to four days," says Dr Brian Wansink, director of the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab, who led the study into the commonly used way of administering medicine. "So it really adds up - to the point of ineffectiveness or even danger."

Fix it: Always use a proper measuring device, such as a measuring cup or dosing spoon, or, according to the NPS MedicineWise, an oral syringe when you're giving medicine to a child.

​ACTION: MEASURE

​TARGET: The temperature in the fridge

​The research says: that 23 per cent of the domestic fridges monitored for a study conducted by the NSW Food Authority had an average temperature that was above safe levels. Once temperatures rise above 5#dgC, the bugs that cause food poisoning start to multiply - after as little as a two-hour spell spent above this temperature, the safety of some foods can't be trusted.

Fix it: Your fridge should be 5#dgC or below. To make sure yours is cold enough and is achieving the temperature promised by the setting you've chosen, buy a fridge thermometer and place it below the top shelf and towards the door to ensure an accurate reading.

​ACTION: DRY

​TARGET: Your hands

​The research says: that although the number of bacteria on your hands decreases after washing, they're not always eliminated, and leaving hands damp makes it more likely that the bacteria will be transferred onto other surfaces. "Good hand hygiene should include drying hands thoroughly, not just washing them," says Dr Anna Snelling, who led the UK's University of Bradford research team that made the discovery.

Good Health (Australia Edition)