Hidden HazardsEven if your kitchen appears sparkling clean and your knives are stored in a safe place, there could be more hazards in your kitchen than you might expect.
Here’s how to prevent getting injured or sick from everyday kitchen items that you may not even know pose a threat.
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Toddler-proofingScary Fact: About every 60 seconds, another kid gets sent to the hospital for burn injuries. Scald burns and contact burns are the most common types of burn-related injuries among kids 4 years old and younger, with scalding making up 65% and contact burns making up 20% of incidents. What’s more, simple scaldings from hot tap water cause more deaths and hospitalizations than any other hot liquid burns, according to the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford.
Remedy: Child-proof your kitchen. Use a stove shield, for about $25, an oven lock for about $8 and cabinet locking devices which start at about $5.
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Shock and fire hazardsScary Fact: One of every three home fires begins in the kitchen, according to the Virginia State Fire Marshal’s Office. Grease fires and other uncontrolled flames can start on the stove, and wet hands plus wall sockets near the sink could cause electric shock.
Remedy: Keep flammable things including potholders, wooden utensils, towels, bags and anything else that can burn away from your stove. And if you’re frying, grilling, broiling or boiling anything, stay in the kitchen, the fire marshal’s office advises. Use the back burners on your stove whenever possible if you have small children, and keep them at least three feet away from the stove.
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FridgeScary Fact: Especially if you stuff your fridge full of food, not every spot inside will be at a temperature low enough to slow the growth of bacteria. And your fridge “can also provide an environment that allows the growth of various food poisoning Agents,” according to the Illinois Institute of Technology’s National Center for Food Safety and Technology.
Among students living in dorms, 56% said they had never cleaned the inside of their refrigerator. Not too surprisingly, about 30% of the refrigerators contained derivatives of fecal matter, according to the Simmons College Center for Hygiene and Health in Home and Community.
Remedy: Keep the inside of your refrigerator at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or less using a appliance thermometer. Keep it there, because if the even of a power outage, you’ll be able to tell whether your food has stayed at a safe temperature, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends. Plus, every time you open your refrigerator or freezer door, cool air escapes, so don’t open them more than necessary. Bacteria grow quickly between 40 and 140 degrees, the USDA notes. You can buy a fridge thermometer for as little as $5.
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Scary Fact: A study from the Hygiene Council (sponsored by the company that makes Lysol) found that the kitchen floor just in front of the sink has more bacteria, 830 per square inch, than a toilet seat, which has about 344 bacteria germs per square inch.
Proving the so-called five-second rule unsafe, a study in which slices of bread and bologna were dropped onto a dirty floor found that the food items picked up 150 to 8,000 bacteria, notes HowStuffWorks.com. If left there for a full minute, the slice picked up 10 times more bacteria. Researchers also found that salmonella can survive on surfaces for up to four weeks.
Remedy: Don’t eat food you’ve dropped on your kitchen floor. You might be safer eating right off of your toilet seat.
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Sponges and clothsScary Fact: The sponge or cloth you use to wash your dishes is probably the dirtiest item in your home, according to the Hygiene Council. In its studies, 86% of cloths examined were dirty and 76% were considered heavily contaminated. Many assume that washing a sponge or cloth in dishwashing liquid is enough, but isn’t necessarily the case.
Remedy: Microwaving a sponge can kill 99.99999% of bacteria in them, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. You can also soak them in a diluted bleach solution three times a week. Sponges should be allowed to air-dry. Wash dish towels often using the hot cycle on your washing machine. You may also want to use paper towels to clean up messes made from handling raw meat and fish.
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SinkScary Fact: It may have hot soapy water running through it often, but your kitchen sink drain can harbor about 567,845 bacteria per square inch, according to Hygiene Council research. So think twice before eating food that has been sitting in your sink. If there were undetectable levels of E. coli or salmonella on food you tossed down there earlier, the bacteria probably didn’t make it all the way down your drain and might taint your meal.
Remedy: Thoroughly scrub your sink and don’t eat food dropped in it.
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HandlesYour fridge door handles, and the handles of your pots, pans and knives could harbor nasty germs if you don’t clean them regularly. Your kitchen faucet handle may have 13,227 bacteria per square inch on its surface, the Hygiene Council reports. And dorm room refrigerator door handles were found to have twice as many bacteria as dorm toilet handles, according to the Simmons College Center for Hygiene and Health in Home and Community.
Remedy: Don’t forget about handles when you’re washing dishes, and regularly clean the outside of your refrigerator, paying special attention to the door handles.
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Cross contaminationScary Fact: Serve a salad on a plate that used to hold raw meat, “you could wind up eating a fresh vegetable salad teeming with salmonella,” according to Penn State University.
Plus, kitchen countertops can be covered in 488 bacteria per square inch according to the Hygiene Council. "Research indicates that 25 percent of reported outbreaks are due to inappropriate consumer food-handling and preparation practices in the home," notes the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.
Remedy: It may seem like a lot of work, but you should wash your hands and every kitchen surface with soapy water, and don’t use dish towels you wipe your hands with to dry dishes.
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Cutting boardsScary Fact: Cutting boards can be covered in 194 bacteria per square inch, according to the Hygiene Council, and cross contamination is easy on these surfaces.
Even though some consumers might believe that non-porous plastic boards are safer than wood cutting boards, this may not actually be true. Plastic boards and the knife marks on them can harbor bacteria, according to the University of California at Davis.
Microbiologists at the University of Wisconsin's Food Research Institute found that 99.9% of the bacteria on wooden boards covered with salmonella, listeria and E. coli couldn’t be transferred to foods. On plastic cutting boards, all of the bacteria survived.
Remedy: Wood appears to actually have bacteria killing properties according to recent research. Plus, for added food safety, wooden cutting boards can be microwaved.
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Place matsScary Fact: Place mats and eating surfaces actually tend to be pretty filthy. Highchairs and other places where children eat have more bacteria on them than toilet handles. And 8% of households surveyed by the Hygiene Council said they never clean their highchair.
Remedy: Wash, wash, wash. Or if you prefer single-use wipes, these are biodegradable and you can get them for less than $5.
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Phone in Your Kitchen
Scary Fact: If you’re a cook with a phone in the kitchen, you may want to think about how often you’ve wiped it down. Kitchen phones can be covered in 133 bacteria per square inch. And if you don’t wash your hands before picking it up, there’s probably even more bacteria.
Remedy: Wipe down your phone regularly and always wash your hands before picking it up, even if it means having to return a call.
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