Cooties in the Kitchen: Are you as safe as you think?
When it comes to kitchen safety, you know the drill: Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water. Use separate cutting boards for meats and vegetables to avoid cross contamination. Keep work surfaces clean and dry. Clean biofilms off appliances like coffee makers and water coolers.
How do I clean biofilms?
And what are biofilms, anyway?
"Biofilms are offensive slimes," says Michael J. Hurst, BSc(Hons) FRSPH, consulting microbiologist, principal, Watermark Consultancy. "They act as food for fast-growing bacteria and can be a hazard in the kitchen."
Biofilms promote bacteria growth, helping them colonize quickly to slippery, gooey surfaces that can give off an unusual odor.
"Biofilms can act as foodfor fast-growing bacteria."
-Michael J. Hurst, microbiologist
In fact, many homeowners might not being paying enough attention to notice the formation of biofilms-especially in hidden appliance parts, such as the reservoir of their bottled water cooler.
"Regardless of make or model, all bottled water coolers have a reservoir," explains Hurst. "If not maintained and cleaned properly, water cooler reservoirs can harbor lots of rapidly multiplying bacteria. Choosing a water cooler that is easy to clean is beneficial."
How Contamination Begins
While it's virtually impossible to create a completely sterile environment in any home, says Hurst, when it comes to bottled water coolers, you can limit exposure by following these safe-handling tips:
- Always wash hands before handling your cooler's water bottles, especially when loading a new bottle into the unit.
- When possible, avoid touching the neck of the water bottle during refilling (even with clean hands).
- Keep dirty hands and fingers or unsanitary plastic bottles from direct contact with water cooler faucets.
- Choose water coolers with easy to clean and maintain reservoirs and faucets.
- Steer clear of using aerosols or other contaminants around the water cooler itself, since these things can be drawn into the cooler when the water is dispensed.
- Position the water cooler in a convenient kitchen location away from where you handle meat and greens, since there have been incidences of dangerous bacteria coming from foods like spinach and alfalfa sprouts.
Time to Clean: Signs & Symptoms
Of course, it's best to clean all kitchen appliances regularly-and that includes bottled water coolers and their reservoirs. Set a cleaning schedule you can remember, such as the last day of the month or the same day you clean your coffee maker or refrigerator.
Not sure when you last cleaned? Here are some tell-tale signs that your water cooler is overdue for its regular cleaning:
- Stale or foul-tasting water
- Slight odor or cloudiness to the water
- Visible slime on faucets or reservoir
- Discolored surfaces on cooler waterway
How to Clean
Hurst recommends cleaning water coolers inside and out with soap and water, peroxide or a sanitation product like Cooler Clean, then rinsing well with plain water to remove residuals.
To avoid the internal parts problem inherent in water coolers with fixed reservoirs, Hurst recommends OASIS International's Nautica Series Bottle Coolers with their patented removable reservoirs.
Featuring a smooth, scratch-resistant, plastic surface, OASIS Removable Reservoirs easily disassemble for simple, effective cleaning in the dishwasher.
"With the OASIS RR line of bottled coolers it takes less than 3 minutes to remove all the parts that require cleaning," says Hurst. "All you have to do is run them through a standard dishwasher cycle and then just as easily assemble and replace. It's truly the easiest cooler in the world to sanitize and the most popular cooler in Europe where I live because it makes complying with our sanitization requirements a snap."
OASIS offers two bottle cooler models with Removable Reservoirs, discover the options:
OASIS CAPRIBy: jfoster