Friday, December 3

Leaving dishes and pots unwashed during the summer, does it involve risks?

The end of the day is coming, we have dinner, we want to extend the after-dinner, read a book or watch a movie or series. From almost anything other than washing dishes and pots. Much more if they are not only those of dinner, but have accumulated during the day.

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It is not surprising that washing dishes is one of the most annoying household chores (the most unpleasant, in fact, according to a study made in the United States in 2018), since it is the one that looks the least and, consequently, the one that is least valued and appreciated.

Due to all this, many times the saying “do not leave for tomorrow what you can do today” is disobeyed and the dishes and pots are left to wash the next day. Something that at first seems to have no major consequences. But, if you think about safety and hygiene in the kitchen, does this action involve any risk?

Proliferation of germs

Well, it is true that leaving dirty dishes favors the reproduction of bacteria that may remain in the food scraps. That higher number of microorganisms is later more difficult to clean and, therefore, could end up having some positive effects on people.

However, according to explained microbiology and food safety experts, this is not a significant risk. Especially if, when cleaning the dishes and pots, a dishwasher is used, a device that uses water at a high temperature: between 60ºC and 80ºC.

In general, water and detergent clean dishes thanks to the “wash-off” effect (just like soap when we wash our hands): they form a film on surfaces that, when rinsing and rinsing, carries bacteria and germs with it .

But when hot water is used, to this effect is added the fact that many microorganisms die when exposed to those temperatures. That is why – as well as because it softens the remains of food that stick to dishes and pots more easily – that the use of hot water is recommended for scrubbing.

When washing dishes by hand, using water at such high temperatures is more difficult, even when wearing gloves. But that does not mean that manual washing is not effective.

A investigation conducted by scientists at the Ohio State University, in the United States, found that, in restaurants where dishes were washed by hand, the amount of bacteria was reduced to levels accepted by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA, for its acronym in English).

And that happened even in places where, for washing, water was used at a temperature lower than the recommended minimum (43ºC, the equivalent of 110 degrees on the Fahrenheit scale).

In short, although it is advisable to wash the dishes and pots shortly after they have been used, to avoid the proliferation of microorganisms, the consequences of leaving them for the next day are not so serious, especially when this is not a common practice.

Other, more serious risks

There are, however, other much greater risks related to hygiene in the kitchen. One of the most important is given by sponges. A study German scientists came to the unpleasant conclusion that such cleaning agents can host a number of bacteria similar to that in human feces.

Sponges have the “ability to collect and spread bacteria with a probable pathogenic potential”, according to the text published in 2017. The humid, warm character and in habitual contact with food debris makes sponges an almost perfect breeding ground for microorganisms.

What is the solution? Common sense would indicate that washing them in boiling water or even putting them in the microwave should work, given the action that high temperatures have on bacteria, as mentioned.

However, stronger bacteria resist these processes and can quickly recolonize areas where other germs have been killed. There may even be the paradox that, some time after boiling or “baking” a sponge, its degree of contamination is even higher.

Therefore, the advice of the German scientists is “a regular (and easily affordable) replacement of kitchen sponges, for example, every week”. Otherwise, the sponges would be removing visible food remains but spreading the germs that live and reproduce on dishes and pots.

Another alternative is to use kitchen brushes instead of sponges. As checked by a job Published this year by researchers from Norway and Portugal, brushes dry faster and, in them, the survival of bacteria is lower.

Beware of hygiene “excesses”

For the rest, it is also convenient that hygiene in the kitchen does not become a kind of obsession, since certain “excesses” in this sense can be harmful. For example, the use of latex gloves when handling food, which creates a false – and dangerous – sense of security.

It has been checked that feeling results in “significantly lower” hand washing rates. And in addition, pathogens attached to the gloves themselves can facilitate cross contamination. Actually, it is advisable not to wear gloves and wash your hands as many times as necessary.

And you also have to bear in mind that excessive hygiene can also be counterproductive. This is revealed by a study carried out in Sweden, according to which the children of families that washed dishes by hand suffered half as many cases of allergic conditions as those of households with dishwashers.

What that work suggests is that “a less efficient washing method can induce more tolerance, through greater microbial exposure.” This is related to the fact that, in general, we are more and more allergic, and one of the main causes is this “excess” of hygiene.

That’s why washing dishes by hand can be tedious but ultimately more convenient than leaving the task in the dishwasher. And it is not so serious if we choose that the dishes are dirty during the night. In any case, the unpleasant thing will be having to face that task the next morning.

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