Many UVA students have the option of living off campus past their first year. Apartments and houses mean that students have access to kitchens, which have the ability to foster many microorganisms. While kitchens are already “germy” places, the habits of college students can make them even more so. The major way to combat the accumulation and growth of microorganisms is by cleaning properly. But most college students are not used to living on their own without the help of parents and are unaware of proper cleaning habits.

Some of the most common germs found in kitchens are E. coli, salmonella, and listeria. According to NSF International (an organization that provides auditing and solutions for public health), the presence of these germs is a hazard to our health. These microorganisms can cause foodborne illness. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that an estimated 1 out of every 6 Americans gets sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die due to foodborne illnesses. In a study NSF international attempted to find out what places in the kitchen harbor the most microorganisms. In the study, 20 families were asked to swab 14 common kitchen items, with jarring results. The places that harbored the most germs were refrigerator vegetable and meat compartments, blender gasket, rubber spatula and rubber-sealed food storage container. Both E. coli and salmonella were found on 25 percent of the 14 items tested – if infected with either of these, can cause mild to serious health issues.

If we had the proper equipment, we would conduct a study similar to the one discussed above. But instead, we asked each other and our fellow peers some questions pertaining to the topic of microorganisms in kitchens. Most people told us that they either use paper towels instead of sponges or have had the same sponge all year. They were shocked (and slightly disgusted) to learn that dish sponges and rags harbored many germs (according to a different 2011 NSF study). We also shared which places had the most germs (which are listed above). We found that most students seldom to never cleaned these items in the proper way. For example, most people do not know that in washing a blender, one must disassemble the entire blender to get at all the spots to clean it well. Because these items all come into direct contact with food they can easily transmit the bacteria and cause us to get sick.

I think it is important to note the grave effect that these microorganisms can have on our health as noted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s estimates. While the presence of these microorganisms is inevitable it is necessary to properly clean the spaces we live in to mitigate their effects. This seems to be a little known subject and I hope that we can raise awareness to help our fellow peers.


UVA student interviews

Post by Emma Nosseir