A recent article in the New York Times cites some very interesting data about the transmission of disease from home kitchens. As health care professionals, we are accustomed to constantly washing our hands after touching both patients and surfaces, but do we pay as much attention to washing our kitchens?
Researchers took cultures from various household kitchen surfaces. They compared the results to questionnaires from the homeowners about where owners thought bacteria would be most prevalent.
One in five sources of infection in foodborne illnesses is a household kitchen. With 10 million cases of food poisoning a year in the United States, figuring out how to reduce the transmission of bacteria in kitchens seems like a reasonable thing to do.
The study found some startling results: the most common places to be contaminated in one's home kitchen are the refrigerator water and ice dispensers, spatulas, the seals in blenders, and the refrigerator meat and produce drawers. Those are amazing places! The refrigerator meat and produce drawers don't surprise me as much as the others.
It's actually fairly simple to clean these areas; vinegar and water work quite nicely. Specific advice about how to do that, particularly for the refrigerator water dispenser, is available online.
The good news is that foodborne illness is declining in the United States. The largest declines are in meat, poultry, and seafood. Illness transmitted by produce remains flat. Unfortunately, foodborne illness transmitted by dairy is rising, probably due to the increasing use of unpasteurized dairy products, which the Center for Science in the Public Interest argues should never be consumed because of the inherent infection risk.
In addition to the proliferation of hand washing with gel products in our homes, it looks like vinegar and water needs to be used more often to clean our refrigerators, spatulas, blenders, and meat and vegetable drawers.
Rinsing and peeling vegetables and fruits remain important as we all seek to consume these healthy and life-sustaining parts of our diet. The "Mediterranean diet,” that has recently been shown again to be associated with reduced burden of chronic illness and 70 percent reduction in mortality, is full of the richness of produce, along with whole grains, olive oil, and red wine. We shouldn't be afraid of our wonderful produce, just store and clean it better… and clean our kitchen appliances and kitchens differently.
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