These Are the Health Risks Lurking in Your Kitchen
It may seem clean, but it's dirtier than your bathroom.
If there's one room in your house that you definitely want to keep clean, it's your kitchen. Aside from being a gathering place and the heart of your home, the kitchen is where you prepare and store your food. In an ideal world, it'd be utterly devoid of bacteria and germs. Unfortunately, that's hardly the case. In fact, according to a 2011 study conducted by NSF International, most kitchens are home to more germs than most bathrooms. Specifically, they're a veritable breeding ground for coliform bacteria, which, per the research, was found on an astonishing 75 percent of sponges and rags. (Ick!) Statistically speaking, this afflicts your home, too, so read on to find all of the health risks that could abound from slacking on your kitchen cleaning.
Salmonellosis—more commonly known salmonella poisoning—is fairly common bacterial infection. And it's a gross one, too: According to the Mayo Clinic, it's most frequently spread through food or water that's been contaminated by feces. Though you'd think (and hope!) that any and all fecal matter is as far away from your kitchen as possible, it can still infect food like raw eggs, meat, poultry, and seafood. And vegans aren't safe either: Some fruits and veggies can carry the bacteria, too (though it's far less likely).
The symptoms of salmonellosis are, at face value, very similar to those of a stomach bug: nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, that sort of thing, says Gina Posner, MD, a board certified pediatrician at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California. Preventing its spread comes down to thoroughly cleaning any surfaces that come into contact with raw cooking materials.
Bacillus Cereus Food Poisoning
Food poisoning is always serious. But it comes in many forms, and the form caused by bacillus cereus is one of the most serious—and most common, too. According to a 2019 report in the journal Frontiers in Microbiology, in the United States alone, there are an estimated 63,000 cases of food poisoning due to bacillus cereus each year.
As Daniel Ganjian, MD, a pediatrician at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, California, notes, bacillus cereus can be present on milk, veggies, meats, and fish. But it's also widely thought to be responsible for a condition called "fried rice syndrome," in which rice that's been cooked but then settled to room temperature serves as a fertile ground for the stuff.
E. Coli Food Poisoning
The most notorious food poisoning, however, is that caused by E. coli. If you recall, Chipotle closed a bunch of locations in 2015 in response to an outbreak, which then sparked a high-profile investigation by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The symptoms associated with E. coli food poisoning are certainly not pleasant, and include everything from abdominal cramps and diarrhea to fever and vomiting, according University of Rochester Medical Center. The bacteria is spread primarily through eating raw or undercooked foods, including raw milk and ground meat products, the World Health Organization notes. So cook those burgers well done, folks!
Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome
Hemolytic uremic syndrome is a blood-clotting disease caused by a hyper specific strain of E. coli. It's most often spread through undercooked meat (usually ground beef), unpasteurized milk or juice, and unwashed fruits or vegetables that have been contaminated. According to the Cleveland Clinic, symptoms of hemolytic uremic syndrome are similar to other types of food poisoning, and include vomiting, fever, nausea, and diarrhea—which can sometimes be bloody. In order to prevent the spread of this particular strain of E. coli, be sure to stick to your cleaning practices, and also take extra steps to defrost your meat in the microwave before cooking. Oh, and also never, ever consume meat under 160º Fahrenheit.
You might think of it as purely a sexually transmitted disease, but, according to the New York State Department of Health, it's possible to contract Hepatitis A if food is prepared, or handled, by someone who's infected. Hep A goes straight to the liver, and the symptoms include an abrupt onset of fever, malaise, loss of appetite, nausea, stomach pain, dark-colored urine, and jaundice. To prevent the spread of Hepatitis A in the kitchen, always wash your hands before preparing food—and before eating it, too.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) considers toxoplasmosis—an illness caused by the Toxoplasma parasite, which lives on undercooked or contaminated meat—to be a leading cause of death attributed to foodborne illness in the United States. But it's not always fatal. In fact, more than 40 million people in the United States carry the parasite, but very few display symptoms, thanks to the strength of the human immune system. To stay safe, the CDC recommends thoroughly washing any surface that comes in contact with raw food.
Listeriosis is food poisoning caused by the bacteria listeria monocytogenes, which, according to the FDA, can also be fatal in some cases. Symptoms of listeriosis can include fever, muscle aches, diarrhea, and nausea. The most common cause of listeriosis infection is the consumption of improperly processed deli meats and unpasteurized milk products. In order to prevent its spread, the FDA recommends ensuring two things: 1) that refrigerated foods stay cold and 2) that your fridge stays as spotless as possible.
Giardia duodenalis, a pesky parasite that can be hiding in your kitchen, can cause giardiasis, one of the most common foodborne and waterborne illnesses in the United States, according to the FDA. The parasite is spread through eating undercooked meat, or any food that has come into contact fecal matter.
But unlike other types of food poisoning, where the symptoms show up within hours, symptoms of giardiasis—diarrhea, abdominal cramps, gas, and nausea—typically don't surface for a week or two after exposure to the parasite. To protect yourself, do what you should be doing more of anyway: Wash your hands!
Respiratory Illnesses from Mold
Where there's moisture, there can be mold—and your kitchen is no exception. We've all seen a loaf of moldy bread, but mold can also be found in other parts of the kitchen, including blenders and ice machines. For people sensitive to mold, exposure can cause everything from nasal stuffiness to eye irritation to, according to the CDC, skin irritation (though that's just in extreme cases). To stay on top the problem, clean even the tiniest nooks in your kitchen—including the blades at the bottom of your blenders—and take measures to ensure your space is properly ventilated.
If someone already infected by the norovirus handles food, they can pass the illness on to other people, according to the University of Rochester Medical Center. Norovirus is definitely something you want to avoid spreading to other people; it causes sudden onset diarrhea and vomiting, as well as a low-grade fever, muscle aches, and malaise, the Mayo Clinic notes. If you or someone in your household has norovirus—or has even been exposed to norovirus—keep them out of the kitchen. Also make sure to take extra time to clean and disinfect all surfaces to stop this virus from making the rounds! And for more surprisingly filthy spots in your home, These Places in Your Home Are Dirtier Than Your Toilet.
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