How dangerous is bacteria in my kitchen?

Peter DeLucia
Health Education
Your home kitchen can be a breeding ground for bacteria but a few simple tips can help protect you and your family!   First, you need to sanitize your counter tops and cutting boards.  If you’re like most people you use a damp sponge or a dish rag to wipe down your counter tops.   It may make everything look clean, but it really just spreads out the bacteria and germs!  In order to truly wipe them out you need to use a sanitizer. You can make a homemade sanitizer that is safe for food contact surfaces by mixing 1 tablespoon of non-scented bleach to a gallon of water.  Put it in a spray bottle and make sure to label it "Sanitizer".   After thoroughly washing your countertops with warm soapy water spray the sanitizer on your countertops and let sit for at least a minute, then lightly wipe them down with a paper towel and let them air dry.   For your cutting boards make sure you thoroughly wash them or if they are plastic run them through your dish machine.    Your wood cutting boards need to be sanitized after you wash them since you cannot run them through your dish machine (Same for the plastic ones if you do not have a dish machine).   Just spray the sanitizer on the washed cutting board and let it air dry. 
Remember that sponge you use to sponge up all your kitchen messes makes a nice moist breeding ground for bacteria.  The same goes for dish towels.  Only use fresh towels to dry dishes and make sure to use paper towels to dry your hands.  Rotate sponges frequently and pop that moist sponge in the microwave for 2 minutes to sanitize it.

In my opinion, one of the most important things you can do to prevent the spread of germs in your kitchen is to correctly wash your hands frequently and in-between prepping food items.  Follow these steps to properly wash your hands.

1. Wet hands thoroughly.
2. Apply soap and lather up!
3. Rub your hands together aggressively for twenty seconds.  That’s about the time it takes to hum the "Happy Birthday" song to yourself twice!  Use a finger nail scrub brush to make sure you get the dirt out from under your nails
4. Rinse thoroughly.
5. Make sure to use paper towels to dry your hands, not the dirty dish rag! 
Obviously, it is not that dangerous, because we have all survived! However, knowing that, the place in the house where most harmful bacteria live is the kitchen, specifically the kitchen sink! So it pays to make sure you clean your kitchen sink well and use disinfectant.

Your kitchen has the highest level of bacterial contamination, particularly in damp areas. Your sponge or dishcloth, drain, cutting board, and faucet handle are some of the biggest bacterial culprits in your home.

While bacteria are microscopic, they can live for more than 2 days on a damp sponge. That's because the sponge provides a moist surface that is easy to cling to and has a steady supply of nutrients.

Your kitchen garbage disposal is another hot spot for germs. Food particles accumulate in this moist place and when you turn on the disposal, tiny aerosol particles spray out of the drain onto kitchen surfaces.

Along with sponges and garbage disposals, kitchen cutting boards are hotbeds for germs, especially if you do not clean them properly after cutting meats or vegetables. And...using the same cutting board for both meats and raw vegetables can wreak havoc on your body if bacteria are present.


Leigh Vinocur, MD
Emergency Medicine
There are invisible dangers lurking in our kitchen. The CDC estimates that there are 76 million cases of food borne illnesses each year which send about 325,000 people to the hospital and cause 5,000 deaths yearly. They are caused by eating foods contaminated with bacteria, viruses or parasites, often from improper cooking, handling or storage.  And while most cases run their course in a day or two without many complications, this is not so for young children, pregnant women, the elderly or those with compromised immune systems, such as cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. These individuals are the most at risk for severe, and sometimes fatal, complications like blood infections and kidney failure.
Part of the problem is that today, we have global food supply chain so there are many points that allow for potential contamination. In addition, there are not enough inspectors in FDA to cover all the needed inspections both here and overseas. The Department of Agriculture is doing a better job now with meat and poultry, which is usually a domestic source, but our new threat today is produce from all over world.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.