>By Marc Lourdes
A recent seven-country survey conducted by the Hygiene Council, a global panel of medical experts, found that Malaysian kitchens were more bacteria-infested than bathrooms.
With dishcloths and kitchen sinks crawling with germs found in faeces, it is not only great food that's being cooked in our kitchens.
Disease and infection are stewing there as well.
Overall, Malaysian homes were found to be the dirtiest among all the countries studied, right after India. The cleanest abodes were found in Saudi Arabia.
A total of 140 samples were taken from homes of families across the income spectrum in the United Kingdom, United States, Germany, South Africa, Saudi Arabia, India and Malaysia.
The results of the survey were based on swabs taken from eight frequently-touched surfaces -- the bathtub, kitchen sink, bathroom and kitchen taps, a plastic toy, fridge handle, dishcloth and kitchen bench.
"This survey is a snapshot of what might be happening here.
"We need to strengthen the hygiene of our population, especially since there is a risk of an influenza pandemic in the future," said Sungai Buloh Hospital Infectious Diseases Department head Dr Christopher Lee.
Hygiene Council consists of experts in microbiology, virology, infectious diseases, immunology and public health.
They found almost 70 per cent of Malaysian samples were highly contaminated.
Sixty per cent of plastic toys in Malaysian homes were infested with E. coli, a bacteria commonly found in faeces, and 25 per cent with S. aureus, an organism found on the skin, nose and throat.
This shows that people do not wash their hands, especially after using the toilet.
E. coli can cause gastroenteritis, urinary tract infection, and neonatal meningitis, while S. aureus causes skin infections and food poisoning.
Dr Lee, a member of the Hygiene Council, said kitchens showed a higher incidence of contamination because table tops were not properly disinfected and dishcloths, which were used to wipe everything, were not properly cleaned.
"It's often not visible dirt, but microbes. Hygiene is taught in schools, but is it something we practise?"
Dr Lee said simple things could be done to ensure greater hygiene in kitchens.
These include cutting vegetables before meat and disinfecting chopping boards regularly.
Above all, he said, wash your hands every time after using the toilet.
"We assume people do that. But in our first survey a few years ago, we found that some people did not."
Fridge handles were found to be the cleanest sample in almost every country, followed by plastic toys.
Half the bathtubs in Saudi Arabia were found to be uncontaminated.
The Hygiene Council, headed by virology professor Dr John Oxford from St Bartholomew's & The Royal London Hospital, believes such a survey is important because "in 1900, microorganisms were the number one killer of men worldwide".
"In 2006, this remains a significant threat," it said.