You don’t need to have had a college job as a short order cook to know that your kitchen is crawling with bacteria, but a pair of recent studies offers somewhat conflicting ideas on what you should do about it.
The first study, out of Kansas State University, researched what items in the kitchen were most likely to be contaminated by bacteria carrying food-borne illnesses like salmonella. The verdict? Your kitchen towel is disgusting and may be trying to kill you.
The second study, published last month in the journal Pediatrics, looked into instances of asthma, eczema and rhinoconjunctivitis among over 1,000 Swedish kids between the ages of 7 and 9. Across the board, it found that kids living in homes without a dishwasher are less likely to suffer from those sorts of allergic reactions. That’s because the kitchen sponge used to clean dishes carries all sorts of microbes, exposure to which strengthens the immune system.
The Kansas State researchers issued a pretty exhaustive list of kitchen safety recommendations beyond just cleaning your kitchen towels more often — including an admonishment of the lowly kitchen sponge as dirtier than a pirate’s latrine, which should be constantly sanitized if not killed with fire.
So, who’s right? Considering that Sweden consistently ranks higher than the U.S. in healthy lives, life expectancy and ice hockey, it’s probably safe to say they’re onto something here. Maybe split the difference and follow KSU’s advice with your kitchen towel, but also stop worrying and learn to love the sponge.