Kitchen sponges could make you ill

PHOTO: Kitchen sponges could make you ill

SINGAPORE - Working mother Katherine Kang used to think that her kitchen sponge was clean enough for washing the dishes and cleaning the sink and stove. Changing it once a month also seemed often enough for her.

But not any more. The financial consultant, 37, said she will now "retire" her sponges earlier.

This is because a Singapore kitchen-hygiene study revealed yesterday that 88 per cent of home sponges tested were found to contain the salmonella and Escherichia coli bacteria.

These germs can cause food poisoning and infections.

Dr Emily Cheah, a senior scientific consultant at the Brass microbiology laboratory, said that sponges in homes here are usually kept in a moist and wet environment, such as being soaked in detergent overnight.

"This makes it very conducive for bacteria growth," said Dr Cheah, who headed the study.

Researchers had distributed new sponges and chopping boards to 25 households to use for seven days, after which the items were collected for testing.

The study was done in September, and was commissioned by dishwashing-product manufacturer Finish and home-appliance maker Bosch.

Another concern highlighted: The likelihood of harmful bacteria being transferred to food increases when a sponge is used for multiple purposes.

Researchers found that 72 per cent of the households used the same sponge to wash dishes and clean areas such as sinks and chopping boards.

Dr Cheah said that cross-contamination can occur in such instances because food-preparation items come into contact with raw-meat juices.

"If a sponge is not squeezed dry thoroughly and we use it to wash the dishes, contaminants could be spread," she explained.

Dr Cheah added that people with lower immunity, such as young children and the elderly, are more vulnerable to infection by the germs.

Experts recommend that kitchen sponges be changed every two weeks. However, the study found that 80 per cent of homes change their sponges after more than two weeks of use.

Infectious-disease specialist Wong Sin Yew said that, because raw meats are a source of bacteria, care should be taken when handling them.

To prevent bacteria in raw meats from being transferred to cooked food, Dr Wong said it is best to use separate chopping boards for raw and cooked food.

For more my paper stories click here.