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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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Time to Say Goodbye

Uploaded: Sep 7, 2017
You Dirty Little Thing.

We’ve been together for so long. I remember when we first met, right out of college. Oh the memories…and all those events…. just me and you alone together in the kitchen. How will I ever live without you?

Remember all those times you were really, really dirty, and I’d microwave or put you through the dishwasher? This will clean you up, I thought. Make it better for both of us. But hah - finally I’ve learned – nothing ever helps.

Dirtier. Little. Thing.

Blame the Germans – they're the ones who finally made me see you for what you are - a very complex being, always on the lookout for “opportunistic pathogens” to move in and fulfill your every reproduction desire. Well go ahead then. Be fruitful and multiply. See if I care any more.

In a January Food Party!, we discussed the value of cleaning our kitchen sponge by microwaving 1-2 minutes. But the German Institute of Applied Microbiology just released new studies showing that “sanitizing” with microwave or dishwasher just selects for the most resistant bacteria. And if you regularly sanitize the same sponge, the germs may even get worse.

So if you still choose to use, word up in Germany is replace dein schwamm every 10 days.

But for me… and you? I can’t keep throwing you out over and over again. There’s no good way to say this … I am really bad at it, and have next to no (ie zero) experience with this ..but we are finished… done. We can’t stay together because, well… I just need more…. uh…. more monogamy in a relationship.

I’m leaving you for the dishtowel.

There, I said it.

Good riddance.

- photo by LL
What is it worth to you?


Posted by Laura Stec, a resident of Portola Valley: Westridge,
on Sep 7, 2017 at 5:30 pm

OK - Now that I told you I hope we can talk soon. Are you available tonight? I want to know what you think. Did I give you reason to hate me? Did you except this? Do you care? Am I an idiot? Does this mean we cannot see each other again? If not so, when?

Posted by School Gardener, a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks,
on Sep 7, 2017 at 6:29 pm

You had me scared there for a minute!

Posted by Bill Boos, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park,
on Sep 7, 2017 at 8:41 pm

I'm moderately astute -- but I don't get it.

Posted by Judy, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown,
on Sep 7, 2017 at 9:55 pm

I usually hang on to my kitchen sponge for about a month. I don't own a microwave or a dishwasher so I just rinse it out after each use. I don't think I've been negatively affected by sponge germs as I am a very healthy person who is rarely ill. If I had a washer/dryer I'd probably use a dish towel also.

Posted by Food nerd, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Sep 8, 2017 at 5:57 pm

You had me scared for a minute there, too.

Does it make a difference if one is a veggivore versus a carnivore?

Can you include a like to any studies you are referring to?

Posted by Laura Stec, a resident of Portola Valley: other,
on Sep 11, 2017 at 8:29 am

Food Nerd, thanks for the comment. Click the "blame the Germans" or "new studies" link for the study.

Posted by Laura Stec, a resident of Portola Valley: other,
on Sep 11, 2017 at 8:31 am

You know what I wonder in all this. What if you dry the sponge completely? Keep your sponges but let them dry out rock hard, then introduce back for 10 days and let dry out again. Just keep switching sponges. Or what about those scrubby brushes - are they as bad?

Posted by Yah but, a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood,
on Sep 11, 2017 at 10:48 am

I guess this is one of those things that I hear can be bad, but I never see any connection to people actually getting sick from it. Sponges have been so wildly prevalent in so many kitchens for so many years...where's the body count? Are there real dangers causing illness, or have we just become better at identifying bacteria?

Posted by biology studies, a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood,
on Sep 11, 2017 at 12:18 pm

Yeah Laura - you know how to get attention (are you an editor also?) I first heard about 'pathogens on sponges' from a broadcast network report (on some other science study). It made perfect sense and the little 'bio-marker' demo using invisible/UV florescent fake-germ-dye was quite simple and telling. Others - you cross-contaminate each time you use a sponge to wipe services.

So - Microwave - heat sensitive pathogens die, others can proliferate. Bleach (I think it breaks down ?) sponges. But microwave/bleach/dryout over a week cycle, then use 2 new sponges per month. That seems 'good enough' for home work.

@ Yah but Never got - "flu symptoms' unsettled stomach? Often people cannot properly self-diagnose a mild case of food poisoning/bacterial contamination! CDC "estimates that each year 48 million people"

Web Link

Thanks Laura

Posted by Steve, a resident of Shoreline West,
on Sep 11, 2017 at 4:23 pm

The rather mild pathogens in kitchen sponges serve to strengthen the immune system through exposure.

Posted by HueS, a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood,
on Sep 11, 2017 at 6:02 pm

Wow, esp floating on the airwaves. I arrived at the same conclusion last night. Tired of picking up the sponge and having stinking hands afterwards. Oh dear, what will replace it? Well, for scrubbing, I'm using a long handled brush, one for food plates another general wiping down counters. Can easily rinse them and set up to air dry every time! Minimizing dish cloths as they can also end up smelling bad. Keep on keeping on and thanks.

Posted by Neighbor, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on Sep 11, 2017 at 7:39 pm

Laura, Thank you Science Girl! So important what you do as a journalist/blogger to keep us informed! We don't believe you, fine, you provide link. Thank you. Sponge be gone., especially after 1 week. Makes total sense. I love it when responsible journalism happens like this.

Posted by the_punnisher, a resident of North Whisman,
on Sep 12, 2017 at 6:15 pm

the_punnisher is a registered user.

A human being uses many of the same " pathogens " in their gut to break down and digest food. Ask your German friends about Blutwurst or even Liverwurst. Even in older times the internal organs were consumed by the hunters that hunted for food for the whole tribe.

The same can also be said about vaccines; It's a direct application of Nietsche quote: That which does not kill us makes us stronger.

Your body is a heat engine and , like Diesel Engines, can consume many different fuels, even contaminated ones. Since my dishwasher uses a sterilization wash cycle ( preheats ALL water that it uses ), I just throw it in the dishwasher.
If you are worried about your " pathogens ", there is a nice autoclave ( used to sterilize reused instruments that are used to fix your insides. I thing that autoclave is still at $100 including shipping at WWW.shopgoodwill.com
Using an autoclave is much like Howard Hugh's mania about germs too.

Good Luck on this latest adventure.

Posted by Louise68, a resident of Menlo Park: other,
on Sep 12, 2017 at 6:26 pm

I, too, thought from this blog's title that this was your last blog here. So relieved that that is not so.

Your blogs are always interesting and well-written, and I eagerly look for them each time I go to the Almanac's website.

Looking forward to your next blog!

Posted by Reader, a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables,
on Sep 12, 2017 at 6:50 pm

That first comment from real life?

Posted by Yah but, a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood,
on Sep 12, 2017 at 7:56 pm

@biology studies: While it's true that sometimes food or bacteria poisoning mimic flu like symptoms, it seems so do any number of things. Here's a quick list of 45 other options it could be besides a sponge that could cause the same symptoms.
Web Link

I'm still not in a bunch over this. So much meh. I have not been sick in 6 years, though I did get the actual flu when I was sick. I don't get symptoms otherwise. My back can give me trouble though...damn sponge bacteria!

Posted by Laura Stec, a resident of another community,
on Sep 12, 2017 at 8:14 pm

You too eh, Reader?... And that's not the only thing.

Posted by Derek, a resident of College Terrace,
on Sep 14, 2017 at 10:03 am

Some more scepticism of the original study ...

More at www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2017/09/11/548926054/can-you-really-not-clean-your-kitchen-sponge

The study also looked at only five sponges that people said they "cleaned" regularly �" and study participants did not say whether this cleaning took place in the microwave or in soapy water. "We do not want to make public health recommendations based on five sponges from Germany," Quinlan says.

Instead, families should stick with the same recommendations Quinlan has given for years:

1. Keep the sponge away from raw meat. "If you're dealing with raw juices from meat or poultry, you should be using paper that can be disposed of," Quinlan says.

2. Don't keep sponges around for too long. "I replace mine every one to two weeks," she says. "That's reasonable to me."

3. Clean the sponge every few days. The USDA recommends putting it in the dishwasher with a heated dry cycle, or wetting the sponge and popping it in the microwave for a minute.

Microwaving the sponge will knock down the bacteria living in it by about a million-fold, scientists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported back in 2009. Of course, this method will leave many still alive since there are billions in the sponge. But the heat targets the dangerous ones, Quinlan says.

"It doesn't sterilize the sponge," she says. "But remember, the bacteria we want to kill are the ones that will make you sick."

In the new study, cleaning apparently boosted the levels of two species. Egert has no idea exactly what these species are, but one is related to bacteria that give your dirty laundry that stinky, musty smell. The other is related to bacteria that, on rare occasions, cause infections in people with suppressed immune systems. Neither of these relatives are known to cause food poisoning.

Posted by 19th Century Man, a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood,
on Sep 14, 2017 at 4:31 pm

Dirty sponges indeed. Why this is nothing but hokum, hogwash and poppycock perpetrated by over-assuming rapscallions. In my day we worried about plague! Dirty sponges indeed...yes, everyone bring out your dead in the morning as the sponge dirt ravages through your village. Balderdash!

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