Imagine you've woken up in your dream home: you move your freshly laundered sheets to the side, and in your new silken pajamas, you go to the bathroom to freshen up: brushing your teeth, washing your face, and putting your face on for the day.
Once you're dressed in your new, dry-cleaned duds, you float down the steps to your pristine dining room where your butler pours you a delicious glass of freshly squeezed orange juice to go with the piping hot French omelette waiting on the table for you. What a clean, beautiful life you're living, right? RIGHT?!
Unfortunately I'm here to tell you that half of the things you touched that morning have poop on them. Or at the very least a common bacteria found in poop. Yes, even in that dream house of yours.
The results of a National Sanitation Foundation international study found that 75% of dish sponges or wipes were contaminated with coliform bacteria, an organism found in large numbers in the feces of warm-blooded animals. I really hope you had lunch already.
They also found the bacteria in 45% of kitchen sinks, 32% of countertops, 18% of cutting boards in the kitchen, and in your bathroom, they somehow found it on less surfaces (27% of toothbrush holders and 9% of bathroom handles).
What Is This Bacteria, and How Did It Get There?!
Generally, there are two categories of coliform bacteria that are found in water: total coliform and fecal coliform (or E.coli.) "The presence of total coliform, by itself, doesn't imply that the resource is contaminated," says The Clean Well Water Report, "but it can reveal that one if not more of the more serious types of harmful bacteria, such as fecal or E. coli bacteria, may be present."
The reason it's so high in sponges is because bacteria thrive in warm, moist environments. A study by Dr Chuck Gerba, a professor of microbiology at the University of Arizona, showed that, compared with the average toilet seat, where there are about 50 bacteria per square inch (6.5 square centimeters), there are about 10 million bacteria per square inch on a sponge, and if you're like me and need to immediately calculate the horror, that makes your kitchen sponge 200,000 times dirtier than your toilet seat.
Also a fun thing to consider: most of this fecal bacteria is coming into your kitchen through raw meat, which is often already contaminated with the stuff.
Can We Stop the Bacteria Invasion?
Anyone else want to fast at this point? And do we wipe everything down with antibacterial wipes ... like ... all the time to keep our kitchens free of coliform bacteria? Well, that simply doesn't work too well either.
A report from BBC on this same icky topic went a little further and conducted an experiment. They had three families use a special removable worktop (countertop) that the BBC provided them at the beginning of the study.
At the start of the study, each worktop was cleaned with antibacterial wipes. The families were instructed to not use the countertops at all for the rest of the experiment, use their kitchens as normal (sans countertops) but were instructed to take sample swabs of the countertop at several time intervals to see how long it remained germ-free. Reader: It was not very long.
"The first samples we looked at were taken one hour after the worktop had been wiped, and there was already evidence of bacteria and fungal growth," microbial physiologist Lynn Dover, at Northumbria University, in Newcastle, England, said. "Samples taken 12 hours after being wiped showed quite dramatic growth."
To not end this on a terrible, terrible fecal note, just think: You haven't gotten too sick from your kitchen yet, have you? If you're looking to keep your kitchen clean (well, as clean as it can be), antibacterial wipes can help, but aren't the answer.
At this point in our scientific history, hope and a little common sense is all we got.