7 Unhealthy Kitchen Habits to Break Immediately

You might not even realize you’re cutting a few sanitation corners in the kitchen. But sometimes it’s the little things — as in disease-causing pathogens — that have major consequences. Here are seven unhealthy kitchen habits to break immediately.

1. Cross-contaminating surfaces

Some people are very conscientious about food safety. But others might not be aware they’re violating rules meant to keep them healthy. In fact, roughly 9 percent of reported foodborne illnesses come from the home, according to a study from Kansas State University.

The study found cloth towels were the germiest item in the kitchen, thanks to cross-contamination. The researchers learned participants weren’t fully cleaning their hands before they used the towels — and they sometimes even used the towels directly after touching something unsanitary. Cross-contamination also came from spreading pathogens to cooking utensils, faucets, refrigerator doors and even cellphones as participants cooked.

2. Not washing reusable bags

Reusable grocery bags are an excellent way to help the environment, but you have to remember to protect yourself, too. Meat commonly contaminates the bags with bacteria, but fresh produce and other products can, too. So it’s important to wash your bags after every use, according to Cleveland Clinic.

To further protect yourself, have a set of bags you only use for groceries to reduce your risk of cross-contamination. Plus, try to bag groceries according to their contamination risk — meat in one bag, produce in another, ready-to-eat foods in another, etc. Never store the bags in your car, especially in warm weather, as bacteria multiply better in heat. And remember to sanitize your countertops if you place bags on them as you unload groceries.

3. Allowing food to sit out for too long

food at a potluckCredit: ParkerDeen/Getty Images

“When in doubt, throw it out” should be everyone’s mantra in the kitchen. No one likes to waste food, but foodborne illnesses aren’t something to risk. So it’s important to know the rules of food spoilage, especially if you’re a meat-eater.

Bacteria grow best at 40 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Thus, never allow perishable food to sit at room temperature for more than two hours, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service recommends. And if the food is out in temperatures higher than 90 degrees, it must be consumed or refrigerated within an hour. But allow leftovers to cool before you store them, as bacteria still can grow in the fridge.

4. Trusting the 5-second rule

If you live by the 5-second rule — the idea that dropped food is fine to eat if you pick it up within 5 seconds — you might want to break that habit. Research has found abiding by the rule could potentially be unsafe.

A study published in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology found bacteria can transfer from a surface to food “instantaneously,” though longer contact time does increase the contamination risk. But the types of food and surface sometimes are more important than the contact time. For instance, carpet did not transmit bacteria as well as tile or stainless steel, the study found. And cut watermelon picked up bacteria, regardless of contact time.

5. Rushing your hand washing

It can be tempting just to give your hands a quick rinse as you move between cooking tasks or take a break to check your phone, pet the dog, etc. But to avoid contaminating your food and kitchen surfaces, you have to wash your hands the right way every time.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lays out the crucial steps of hand washing. First, wet your hands under running water, and apply soap. You may turn off the tap as you’re soaping, as the faucet shouldn’t transfer a significant amount of germs, according to the CDC. Next, lather and scrub all parts of your hands — fronts, backs, nails, between your fingers, etc. Scrub for at least 20 seconds. (That’s singing “Happy Birthday” twice.) Finally, rinse your hands under running water, and dry them on a clean towel. It all sounds simple, but it’s a step many of us rush.

6. Cutting corners as you clean

woman cleaning an empty refrigerator drawerCredit: AndreyPopov/Getty Images

After doing the dishes and wiping the counter, do you call it a day on your kitchen cleaning? You might want to rethink that. There are many spots in the kitchen people often skip in regular cleaning that can end up harboring the most pathogens.

A study from NSF International, a product-inspection organization, found consumers often don’t follow manufacturer instructions when it comes to cleaning certain kitchen items. A major offender was the refrigerator — especially its vegetable and meat compartments, as well as the water and ice dispensers. The study found salmonella, listeria, E. coli, yeast and mold in the refrigerators it examined. Plus, it also found many of the same pathogens on blender gaskets, can openers, rubber spatulas, food storage containers and knife blocks — a sign we’re not cleaning our kitchens as well as we think.

7. Cleaning with a dirty sponge

Speaking of cleaning, is there a kitchen sponge sitting by your sink? How often do you clean it? Even if you’re careful about other aspects of sanitation in your kitchen, that sponge can throw it all down the toilet — literally. One study found kitchens host more microbes than toilets, primarily because of bacteria-ridden sponges.

Thankfully, researchers also have found an effective way to clean these sponges. As long as your sponge doesn’t have any metal on it, microwaving it for a minute will kill 99.9999 percent of the bacteria. (Microwave it wet, as a dry sponge might catch fire.) And throwing your sponge in the dishwasher will kill 99.9998 percent of the bacteria. Do this at least every day — or more depending on use. Just make sure to replace your sponge if it gets really gross or worn.

Main image credit: AfricaImages/Getty Images

84 comments

Jack Y
Jack Y3 days ago

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Jack Y
Jack Y3 days ago

thanks

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John J
John J3 days ago

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John J
John J3 days ago

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Val P
Val P25 days ago

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Christophe B
Christophe Bazin28 days ago

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Olivia M
Olivia M29 days ago

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Marija M
Marija Mabout a month ago

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Shae L
Shae Leeabout a month ago

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Mia B
Mia Babout a month ago

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