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Your Kitchen: A Breeding Ground for Germs?

In "The Early Show" series, "Germ Warfare," consumer correspondent Susan Koeppen took on one of the most utilized rooms in the home - the kitchen - to see what kind of bacteria might be lurking.

Adrienne Skinner, of Larchmont, N.Y., opened her kitchen to Koeppen, who, armed with sterile laboratory swabs, tested surfaces all over her busy kitchen.

Koeppen tested for common forms of bacteria - not only on the refrigerator shelves, drawer and handles, but also on the microwave buttons and the counter. Koeppen also took Skinner's kitchen sponge for testing.

Koeppen's consumer team also fanned out across the country collecting samples from other kitchens. Then all of the samples were sent off to a lab for testing.

What did they find? What was the absolute worst?

The sponges.

Ron Schnitzer, a microbiologist at Sani-Pure Labs, said, "Sponges really should not be used in the kitchen, because all they do is absorb the dirt and spread the dirt."

Skinner's sponge had 490 million total bacteria with a count of two million coliform bacteria. Coliform bacteria, Koeppen explained, is the bad bacteria scientists count to determine the level of contamination.

Schnitzer said, "When you get bacteria counts from a sponge in excess of a million bacteria and coliform bacteria in excess of a million bacteria, that's a serious source of contamination."

A sponge Koeppen tested from a kitchen in New York was even worse, with 490 million total bacteria with 10 million coliform. According to Schnitzer, this is as much bacteria as you would find in a decomposing garbage bag, and more bacteria than you would find on the average toilet seat.

Schnitzer said, "Someone could potentially get ill the next time they prepare food."

As for Skinner's microwave, coffee pot, refrigerator handle, and the counter, they all came back clean. However, the inside of a refrigerator drawer had a 250,000 total bacteria count. This was not good, Koeppen said, but not as bad as one of "The Early Show"'s own team members' refrigerator shelf. It had a total count of 21 million bacteria, with high coliform and E. coli count.

Microbiologists say these numbers can make you sick.

"Now imagine if in your household, you either have a very young child or you have an elderly individual or you actually have someone that's recovering from an illness these bacteria counts would be significant,"
Schnitzer said. But do you want to take the risk?"

As for Skinner, she said she'll be making some changes in her house.

"Let's just say sponges are not going to be part of the kitchen accoutrements in the future." she said. "That's definitely a change I'm going to make."

Koeppen added that it's a good idea to clean your fridge on a regular basis. Placement of your food is also important, she said. One recommendation, Koeppen said, is to put meats on the bottom shelf, so they don't drip down and get germs on the rest of your food.

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