There's E. Coli Hiding In Your Kitchen, So It's Time to Brush Up On Your Cleaning Skills

If you’re not in the habit of thoroughly washing your kitchen utensils and hands after making chicken and other poultry, you might want to start: A new study published in Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology indicates that we’re all at a much higher risk for falling prey to E. coli than we probably think we are.

Researchers examined 154 cutting boards from the University Hospital in Basel, Switzerland and 144 cutting boards from private homes; out of these, 64 of the hospital boards and 62 of the household ones had been used to prepare poultry. They found that while none of the boards that had been used exclusively to prepare non-poultry meats — so we’re talking beef, pork, fish, and so on — 6.5 percent of the hospital cutting boards and 3.5 of the home ones used to prepare poultry tested positive for extended-spectrum beta-lactamases (ESBL-producing) E. coli bacteria. They also tested 20 pairs of gloves used by cooks in the hospital to prepare poultry, finding that fully half of them tested positive for E. coli.

We’ve known for a while that the spread of multidrug-resistant bacteria happens rather more than we’d like to admit in hospitals, but essentially the study’s findings drive home that it’s a risk anywhere. Not-so-fun fact: Yale University actually canceled classes today after a sample of New Haven’s water tested positive for E. coli last week. But at least when it comes to our own kitchen supplies, we can do something about it; all we need to do is make sure we wash everything with plenty of dish soap and hot water after we use it. And by the way, this goes for everything, not just for items used to prep chicken. Did you know that spinach and other leafy greens are one of the leading causes for food poisoning? Because they are (hey there, Whole Foods and Trader Joe's!). So yeah — wash everything. Wash your utensils, wash your veggies, wash your hands… everything.

But hey, at least there might be a light at the end of the tunnel — last week, it came out that researchers from Purdue may have developed a virus cocktail that can attack and kill nearly all E. coli in spinach and beef under laboratory conditions. It sounds a little gross — the viruses, known as bacteriophages, invade the nuclei of E. coli cells and basically make them reproduce until they explode — but still. In the words of Pokemon, it’s super effective, so it’s big news.

In the meantime, though, it couldn’t hurt to brush up on your washing technique. Safety first, right?