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The Food Party!

By Laura Stec

E-mail Laura Stec

About this blog: I've been attracted to food for good and bad reasons for many years. From eating disorder to east coast culinary school, food has been my passion, profession & nemesis. I've been a sugar addict, a 17-year vegetarian, a food and en...  (More)

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You Dirty Little Thing

Uploaded: Jan 11, 2017

I consider myself pretty easy to work for, but I do have a serious pet peeve about porous, squishy things. With the kitchen sponge – there is no patience.

AKK! I go crazy when people use the dish-wash sponge to clean. Don’t do it!! You just transfer the icky, stickies on the counter and in the sink to a perfect reproduction clinic. Your little buggies set up shop, spend the night, and proceed to grow to epic, world-conquering proportions.

“Sponges are usually the dirtiest thing in the kitchen,” says microbiologist Manan Sharma of the USDA’s Food Safety Laboratory. We should listen to her. A 2011 study from the public health non-profit NSF International (based in my hometown, Ann Arbor, MI - Go BLUE) found the germiest room in the house was the kitchen, and the germiest thing in the kitchen was the sponge. - 77 percent of the sponges tested contained coliform bacteria, 86 percent had yeast and mold, and 18 percent had Staph bacteria. Unexpectedly, the bathroom came in as #2 most-germiest place in the house.


Sponges have a lot of holes that hold onto food and water, a prime spot for bacteria, molds and yeasts to grow. Plus after use, people often leave the sponge lying flat to wallow in its own moisture all day and night. Coliform and Staph can both cause serious infections in individuals with a compromised immune system, as well as the very young, elderly and pregnant women. Coliform may be tracked to feces.


Rinsing your sponge out is not enough, and soaking it in bleach or lemon juice doesn’t do the trick either. Like anything in the kitchen, you want it to dry out between uses.* The best and fastest solution is microwaving the WET sponge for one minute or putting it through the dishwasher. And for counters and sinks, please use a dishcloth (or paper towel) to clean, then wash or hang overnight to dry.

So here’s a little game for you. Number 1 – 10 the most-to -least germiest house hold items below.

Answer later in the week.


Kitchen sink
Pet bowl
Kitchen sponge
Toothbrush holder
Kitchen counter top
Pet toy
Cutting board
Bathroom light switch
Toilet handle
Bathroom faucet handle
Stove knobs
Bathroom doorknob
Coffee maker reservoir

Stand up your sponge after you are finished with it

* Actually, you want to dry out EVERYTHING between uses. Don't put bowls or tupperware away wet. Completely dry things before storage. The sponge is just the worst here - because it takes so long to dry.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by Colleen, a resident of another community,
on Jan 12, 2017 at 8:33 am

I totally agree! Sponge for cleaning dishes, silverware, pots, and pans (before I put them in the dishwasher - that's another story: to clean or not clean ahead of time!) and a paper towel for cleaning the counter top. My new favorite sponge: "Debbie Meyer GeniusSponge: What good is wiping down the counter if your sponge or dishrag has had mold and bacteria growing on it for days? Debbie's solution? A unique GeniusSponge that helps inhibit growth of bacteria and mold on the sponge itself, while reducing the potential for it to spread elsewhere. More absorbent. Longer lasting. Genius."

Posted by Germ phobia, a resident of Midtown,
on Jan 12, 2017 at 12:31 pm

So much emotion about a non existent danger. What are those horrible things on your kitchen counter, a decayed lettuce leaf?

So put it in the microwave for a minute.
There are real dangers in the world. This is not one of them.

Posted by Laura Stec, a resident of Portola Valley: other,
on Jan 13, 2017 at 8:36 am

Hey Colleen - you made me google it! Thanks for the tip.

Posted by Laura Stec, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Jan 13, 2017 at 9:39 am

Laura Stec is a registered user.

Posted by Laura Stec, a resident of Portola Valley: Westridge,
on Jan 14, 2017 at 6:59 pm

Germ phobia,

Food safety is everyone's business, even in your own home.

Beside, who doesn't like a little emotion and passion now and again, especially in one's own home :)

Posted by Lisa, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Jan 15, 2017 at 8:06 pm

200,000 years of human evolution have brought us this: anxiety about kitchen sponges.

Posted by Laura Stec, a resident of Portola Valley: Westridge,
on Jan 15, 2017 at 10:08 pm


I know, you want to talk politics too? I do but treading lightly.

Title test...

What Part Of No Don't You Understand?

Posted by What's that, a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills,
on Jan 15, 2017 at 10:10 pm

What's that in the center of the soap?

Posted by Max Hauser, a resident of Mountain View,
on Jan 17, 2017 at 9:22 am

Max Hauser is a registered user.

Thanks for bringing attention to this often ignored side of cooking, Laura.

I've seen recipes in food-discussion websites that'd bring Health-Department intervention for potentially deadly food-poisoning risk if done in a restaurant, yet their home practitioners dismiss the issue as alarmist-- "the recipe hasn't hurt anyone so far."

Even decades ago, biologists were pointing out that in cleaning dishes at home, the key step to reduce foodborne pathogens is drying, and that wet sponges or towels are bacteria and mold growth media. Yet this hasn't penetrated public consciousness as much as some other safety principles have. You can see that implicitly in some earlier comments here.

Posted by Laura Stec, a resident of another community,
on Jan 17, 2017 at 8:38 pm

Oooo, what's that, someone is paying attention..

OK - here are the answers

Volunteers Thought Dirtiest Things:

1.Toothbrush holder
2. Dish sponge/rag
3. Money
4. Pet toy
5. Kitchen counter top
6. Bathroom door knob
7. Kitchen sink
8. Pet bowl
9. Toilet handle
10. Bathroom light switch

Actual Findings:
1. Dish sponge/rag
2. Kitchen sink
3. Toothbrush holder
4. Pet bowl
5. Coffee maker reservoir
6. Bathroom faucet handle
7. Pet toy
8. Kitchen Counter top
9. Stove knobs
10. Cutting board

Posted by Alan, a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven,
on Jan 20, 2017 at 11:10 am

Can you take a nasty, dank dirty sponge, squeeze its juice into a glass, and call it pro-biotic Kombucha? It'll make your gut a little more floriferous. ;)

I'm just being gross. I think there's a balance between understanding that sometimes bacteria are your friends, other times, not so much. Having a smelly kitchen sponge is not such a good idea, even if it (usually) doesn't kill you.

Posted by Laura Stec, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Feb 8, 2017 at 7:11 am

Laura Stec is a registered user.


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