There has been a post going around the internet, namely Facebook, of a picture of raw chicken being seasoned in the kitchen sink before cooking. My gut instinct was that the chicken needed to be thrown out immediately and the sink (and basically the entire kitchen area surrounding the sink) needed to be thoroughly decontaminated, and the people doing this need a serious lesson on food safety. But then I thought, why? Why is this unsafe? My gut instinct said it was, but we need more than that. This is a research-based institution after all. So, upon further thought and research I have come up with a good answer as to why we should not use our kitchen sink as a bowl or for anything other than a sink.
First of all, you may have heard the saying, “The kitchen sink is the dirtiest and nastiest place in your home, even more than your toilet.” This is mostly true according to research. The actual germiest place is kitchen sponges, which, if you still use these, should be thrown away immediately and never purchased again. But kitchen sink drains are gross, mainly because of all the food prepping and dish washing that goes on in there. Sink drains can be home to fecal matter, E.coli, coliform bacteria, and mold, among other things. The sink drain alone can harbor millions of germs that can quickly get you sick and are harmful enough to cause hospitalization and even death especially in those with weakened immune systems such as the elderly, young children, pregnant women, and those battling immune weakening diseases such as cancer. Many people’s response to this fact may be that they clean the sink before and after using it as a bowl. While I commend them for trying to be sanitary about it, this is still not okay. No amount of bleach and scrubbing can fully remove all bacteria from the sink, especially all the crevices in the drain area. Even if you don’t use the sink for raw meat, but use it to cut and wash vegetables, the sink is still going to make your food dirty, even if you cook the food before eating it. There are several types of pathogens (harmful germs) than can survive through heat and harsh cleaning products, even bleach! The bottom line here is the sink is making your food dirty and your raw meat is making your sink dirty. There is no way around the fact that everything about using the sink as a bowl is a bad idea.
A few more food safety tips to keep in mind:
- Don’t rinse or wash raw meat before cooking. This can splash bacteria all over the kitchen, even further than you might think.
- Hands can be the biggest contributor to spreading bacteria. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water before handling food, after touching raw or uncooked food, after unpacking groceries, after cracking open eggs, after washing fresh produce, interacting with the family pet, playing or working outside, and of course, after using the bathroom.
- Consider using paper towels for cleaning kitchen surfaces and drying hands. Hand towels can harbor bacteria. If you do use cloth towels and washrags, hang them up to dry between uses, and change them out every day. Wash them frequently in hot water in your washing machine.
- Rinse fruits and vegetables under running tap water. Produce with skins and rinds that are not eaten should be rinsed before cutting. With a designated vegetable scrub brush, scrub produce having rough bumpy exteriors. Avoid soaking produce in water.
When it comes to food safety, the number one thing to remember is that you don’t want to end up making yourself or your family sick. To avoid a situation like this, we must practice good personal hygiene and safe food handling practices. Follow these practices and you should feel better about having a clean and safe kitchen.
For more information on food safety, check out these Extension Publications:
Keeping Food Safe for You and Your Family http://www.uaex.edu/publications/pdf/FCS817.pdf
Foodborne Illness: Debunking the Myths http://www.uaex.edu/publications/PDF/FSFCS04.pdf
Quick Consumer Guide to Safe Food Handling http://www.uaex.edu/publications/PDF/fsfcs82.pdf
Germiest items in the home. The National Sanitation Foundation. http://www.nsf.org/consumer-resources/studies-surveys-infographics/germ-studies/germiest-items-home
Treiber, Lisa. Keeping Food Safe in Kitchen. Michigan State University Extension. https://www.canr.msu.edu/uploads/resources/pdfs/keeping_food_safe_in_kitchen.pdf
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