A mum’s hack for cleaning toilet brushes has divided the Internet

Jessica Chambers of Mama Mia writes that cleaning the toilet is no one’s favourite chore.

However, one mum – who is tired of buying new toilet brushes every few months – has come up with a controversial idea to keep her toilet brush clean – and it’s certainly divided certain circles on the Internet.

Taking to UK site Mumsnet, the woman asks: “Would it be absolutely disgusting to… put loo brushes in the dishwasher on their own, on hot setting, followed by a hot wash on empty??!!!”

Um… yes, yes it would be absolutely disgusting. But maybe that’s just us because the most mind-blowing revelation to come out of the thread was that this woman was not alone.

“Of course it’s fine! Dishwashers temperature is set to kill all bugs. I wouldn’t and don’t even do a hot wash afterwards,” one replied.

“I do my four loo brushes, pots they go in, pots they stand on (it’s a whole contraption) every month in the dishwasher. It’s a full load, wouldn’t put anything else in with them,” another added.

There’s a yuck factor involved, so I reached out to my microbiological friends who agreed, yes there is a yuck factor, but it’s a fine procedure.

The bigger risk may be the drip drip carrying the brush to the dishwasher, so carry it in the holder, and put it in the dishwasher as well.

What to do with the sponge

The kitchen sponge has been gaining a lot of traction lately in food safety media that stemmed from the recent German study that analyzed 14 sponges. Don Schaffner provided his expertise regarding the validity of the study on Barfblog earlier.

It is no surprise that sponges harbor bacteria, what is surprising is all of the conflicting messaging on what to do with them. Food safety messaging needs to be rapid, reliable, relevant and repeated. Unfortunately it is not just food safety messaging on social media, inconsistency exists within food safety Regulations in Canada compounding the problem further. But that’s a whole other blog.

A study conducted in 2007 evaluated different disinfection methods to reduce bacteria, yeasts and molds on kitchen sponges (1). Sponges were soaked in 10% bleach solution for 3 min, lemon juice (pH 2.9) for 1 min, or deionized water for 1 min, placed in a microwave oven for 1 min at full power, or placed in a dishwasher for full wash and drying cycles, or left untreated (control). The study showed that microwaving or placing the sponge in a dishwasher significantly lowered aerobic bacterial counts on sponges more than chemicals and control.

Doug Williams of the The San Diego Union Tribune writes:

As a longtime food safety consultant, teacher and inspector, Robert Romaine has seen plenty of disastrous and dirty commercial kitchens.
He knows the menacing microbes that make us sick and has seen the evils lurking in kitchen corners.
So, he has a couple of rules. One, avoid potlucks. Who knows how that chicken salad was prepared. And two, when invited to a friend’s house for dinner, put the blinders on.
“When I’m visiting someone, I try not to hang around the kitchen,” says Romaine, who owns Food Safety Consulting in San Diego. “Sometimes I know too much, and I just don’t want to know what’s going on in there.”
The dangers are many, from improper refrigeration to cross contamination. But recently, there’s been an added focus on kitchen sinks and counters and the way people keep them clean — or don’t.
Yet as Romaine notes, precautions can easily be taken in our home kitchens to lessen the dangers of contamination.
Take that disgusting sponge, for instance.
“If a person is careful and actually knows they got the sponge up to 180 degrees (when cleaning it), nothing’s going to live,” he says. The key is being certain the temperature is high enough, not just warm but lethally hot. Federal government guidelines suggest 165 degrees as the minimum temperature for killing bacteria. A food thermometer can be used to test that sponge after microwaving. Adds Joyce Wilkins, who taught food safety for years in San Diego through her business, Safe at the Plate: “Yes, the sponge is fairly disgusting. All bacteria, all organisms die at 165 degrees, so if you heat it up hot enough to burn you in the microwave, you will kill it.”

Wilkins, in fact, discourages the use of a sponge and suggests buying a pack of 10 dishcloths instead and using a fresh one every 24 hours. “The big issue is dampness,” she says. “Bacteria need water to survive, and if the cloth is dried out each time,” it helps prevent bacteria growth.

Romaine suggests using paper towels instead of cloths or a sponge for cleanup, especially after preparing meat or chicken. Paper towels can be thrown away so bacteria can’t be transferred. “Obviously, if you just cut up raw chicken, you don’t want to use a household sponge for that,” he says. “But if you’re just wiping up debris from cutting up bread or vegetables, that’s not very harmful.”

Wilkins also will use isopropyl alcohol to clean surfaces, along with a stiff-bristled brush instead of a sponge. A cutting board used to prepare chicken, for instance, will be scrubbed with a brush and hot, soapy water, then treated with some of the alcohol to kill remaining germs, rinsed and allowed to air dry. The same system can be used for countertops, where a brush can dislodge the bio film that can build up over time (and not be rubbed away with a sponge or cloth).
Instead of using a dishtowel to dry just-washed plates and utensils — a towel that may have been used to dry hands or wipe a countertop — allow those plates and utensils to air dry.

Do not use isopropyl alcohol to clean surfaces, washing with soap and water applying friction is good enough.

1. Manan Sharma , Janet Eastridge, Cheryl Mudd. 2007. Effective household disinfection methods of kitchen sponges. Food Control 20 (2009) 310–313

But why would you? 5 foods you can cook in your dishwasher

In the latest triumph of food porn over food safety, someone at Shape magazine – porn over reality — thought it was a good idea to apparently gather random recipes that can be cooked at the same time as washing dishes.

food.cook.dishwasherThe recipes all get made inside an airtight canning jar or food vacuum bag.


Trim 1/4 pound of asparagus and place in a half-quart mason jar with 1 cup water, a pat of butter and some seasonings. Place on the top rack, and set your dishwasher to run a normal cycle.

Green Beans

Pretty much the same deal. Cook 1/4 cup of green beans with 1 cup of water and season with salt, pepper and lemon to taste.


Place a thin, skinless chicken breast in a half-quart mason jar with a cup of white wine, then add water until the chicken is covered by an inch. Wash and go. (And try not to think too much about poultry juices co-mingling with your water glasses.)


Same idea. Just add lemon and dill.


The ultimate dishwasher masterpiece. Cut a deveined, de-shelled lobster tail in half (find out how to crack it open here), then place it in a mason jar with a stick of unsalted butter. Run through a wash cycle, then invite your friends over for dishwasher lobster rolls.

I look forward to the validation studies for microbial kill rates, and cross-contamination issues.

Calling Betteridge’s law: Are paper cups necessary for controlling pathogens


Especially not if you’re looking to control the alphabetical triple play of hepatitis A, B and C (two of which are blood borne).

But a pastor in Sudbury, Ontario (that’s in Northern Canada, past Barrie) believes paper cups are more sanitary so he’s making the switch, according to CBC.

The Elgin Street Mission in Sudbury is switching to paper coffee cups to be more hygienic.

Pastor Rene Soulliere said for the past two weeks, they’ve been using biodegradable cups to ensure there is no spread of disease.Unknown-13

“We’re going to stick with those so that we can serve coffee and not worry,” he said.

“If there is hepatitis A, B or C, which is on the street a lot now, that contamination will not be on the cups.”

Soulliere said with the rise of diseases, such as hepatitis, it’s important to help stop the spread.
“You get a cup and you throw it away,” he said. “The other way, we’ve [got to] make sure they are properly washed every time and there is a possibility that … you miss one or two and somebody could get sick from it.”

Or invest in a dishwasher.

I’m not aware of dishware or cups being identified as vehicle for hep A. As the late, great Bill Keene said: stuff that food is put into, whether one-use or reusable, can facilitate norovirus transmission.

The sous vide of the suburbs: Cooking Thanksgiving in the dishwasher

Ben Raymond is an MS student at North Carolina State Universit yand self-proclaimed beer aficionado, focusing on food safety through social media, barf banter, and creating new foods.

Raymond writes:

As I wait impatiently for my girlfriend to come back from work in Boston, I’m hoping the freezing rain and sleet will hold off until later tonight. We have a three-hour drive this afternoon to Vermont, to visit my family for Thanksgiving.dishwasher

Ben Chapman forwarded me a piece from the L.A. Times blog (thanks Michele -ben) on cooking a Thanksgiving dinner in the dishwasher (because I’ve become the dishwasher-cooking-food-safety guru of our group).

If you can’t seem to keep your Thanksgiving turkey moist in the oven, you may want to try your dishwasher. Yes, people have been using the kitchen washing machine to cook proteins and fish since the 1970s, but famed chef David Burke insists you can also use it to cook the star of your Thanksgiving meal.

But before you start shoving your entire turkey in the dishwasher, Burke’s recipe calls for two boneless turkey breasts, not the entire bird. The meat and herbs are packed tightly in plastic wrap then sealed in Tupperware containers before hitting the top shelf of the dishwasher for three cycles or about 3 hours and 25 minutes.

This cooking technique is getting some play in the social mediaverse as a way to make moist, tender chicken, fish, or even beef –sort of a sous vide for the suburbs (without the thermal immersion circulator).

Earlier this fall I did a quick and dirty test of this technique in my own dishwasher. With some nifty water-proof stainless data-loggers, I’ve run few cycles in the dishwasher to see if you can safely cook various proteins. Is it a safe method? The data I’ve generated points to, unsurprisingly, sort of.

Salmon cooks nicely and reaches a safe (and tender) time and temperature combination as suggested 145° F.  Even poultry may be cooked safely in the dishwasher (at least in my home, no promises for any other setup), but only if you have expensive tools to monitor the cooking process. The data shows the proteins were held at temperatures below 165° F, but still hot enough and for sufficient time to effectively be cooked (as per FSIS’ appendix A. As a home cook, armed with a tip sensitive digital thermometer, the meat is unlikely to ever register the recommended 165° F internal temperature.

image-copyThere’s lots of variability though. Other dishwashers may be hotter than mine, or not (we have very hot water in my house, over 145° F from the tap).

All of this effort the chicken I cooked in my dishwasher was gross. It never got hot enough for the proteins to really cook and move past the rubberyish texture of raw of chicken. I like my steaks medium rare, but poultry? No thanks.  In my house we will be sticking with our traditional, yet boring, oven to roast our Thanksgiving bird.

Food Safety Talk episode 48: Ninja moves to rock and roll

Food Safety Talk, a bi-weekly podcast for food safety nerds, by food safety nerds.  The podcast is hosted by Ben Chapman and barfblog contributor Don Schaffner, Extension Specialist in Food Science and Professor at Rutgers University.  Every two weeks or so, Ben and Don get together virtually and talk for about an hour.  They talk about what’s on their minds or in the news regarding food safety, and popular culture. They strive to be relevant, funny and informative — sometimes they succeed. You can download the audio recordings right from the website, or subscribe using iTunes.FoodSafetyTalk

Show notes for episode 48:

The guys started the show with some general chit chat about The Beer Store and The Nail Shop, the Beach Boys, including “Pet Sounds“, Chuck Berry, Bed Bad Baaaaaaatz, Don’s Etymotic hf5 earphones, Twitter, (including this discussion), and Barbara M. O’Neill‘s great work.

Prompted by a link from Alejandro Amezquita the guys then turned their attention to laundry and in the process gave the phrase “Eat My Shorts!”meaning. In the article, Lisa Ackerley discussed the hygiene of laundering. The guys recalled a couple of research articles by Chuck Gerba related to the topic (here and here). Neither Don nor Ben were particularly worried about this.

This reminded Ben of The Salt article on cooking food in the dishwasher. The guys discussed the potential risk of this approach and the sciences that is needed. Another [The Salt article on washing poultry had also resulted in a large amount of social media engagement, which is something the Don and Ben are always keen to explore. And both enjoyed Alton Brown’s proper method for washing out the inside of a whole poultry.

The guys then moved onto the bug trivia replacement segment called Food Safety History, in honour of a 100 years of the IAFP Journal of Food Protection. In this episode the Don covered the pre 1940 era. It all started with the Journal of Milk Technology and the connection with raw milk reminded Ben of this Toronto Star article.

Don then wanted to talk about this NY Times article, related to Salmonella in spices, and the related Food Microbiology article. Don posed Ben the questions that he was asked for a Q&A based Rutgers media release on this topic and the guys compared their answers.

The guys then got fired up about the Cronut Burger related outbreak article by Jason Tetro. Ben didn’t quite agree with some of Jason’s assumptions, so Ben queried the manufacturers about the parameters of the product, which Le Dolci didn’t know. Ben eventually found the answer from Toronto Public Health, and was able to set the record straight

To finish off, Don mentioned The New Disruptors podcast, which featured Marisa McClellan in Episode 38 “Yes, we can!”talk about food preservation. Don was pleasantly surprised by her knowledge, including of the National Center for Home Food Preservation.

In the after dark the guys continued with canning, including Canvolution, Canning Across America and pink flamingos for their 50th episode.

Norovirus can withstand typical restaurant dishwashing measures

Restaurant dishes and silverware may be an overlooked place where people can catch stomach viruses, according to a new study published today on the PLOS ONE website. While the current industry guidelines for cleaning dishware used in public settings are effective at neutralizing bacteria, researchers at The Ohio State University found that they appear to fall short of eliminating norovirus.

Norovirus is the leading cause of epidemic gastroenteritis and the major cause of foodborne illness worldwide, responsible for at least 50% of all gastroenteritis outbreaks in the United States.

“We know that when public food establishments follow the cleaning protocols, they do a very good job at getting rid of bacteria,” said Melvin Pascall, associate professor, Department of Food Science and Technology at Ohio State. “Now we can see that the protocols are less effective at removing and killing viruses – and this may help explain why there are still so many illnesses caused by cross-contaminated food.”

Supported by a grant from the Ohio State Center for Clinical and Translational Science, Pascall and Jianrong Li, assistant professor of virology at Ohio State, led a team of virologists and public health experts to test the ability of the norovirus and common bacteria to make it through a variety of “real life” food service cleaning scenarios that included manual and mechanical washing.

To carry out the experiment, the research team infused cream cheese and reduced fat milk – two foods that are known for being difficult to clean off – with murine norovirus (MNV-1), Escherichia coli (E. coli K-12) or Listeria innocua (L. innocua). The scientists then applied the dairy products to stainless steel utensils, ceramic plates and glassware, and put the tableware through a variety of chlorine and quaternary ammonium compound (QAC)-based sanitary protocols delivered via a commercial dishwasher or hand washing.

The team found that while both the commercial dishwasher and manual washing reduced bacterial loads of E. coli K-12 and L. innocua enough to meet safety standards, neither technique was able to significantly reduce the presence of MNV-1. Overall, dishes that were hand washed were more likely to contain traces of both bacteria and viruses than those cleaned in a commercial dishwasher.

“Even though the protocols were able to kill some of the virus, norovirus is highly contagious and it takes only a few viral particles to infect humans,” said Jianrong Li, assistant professor of food virology, who holds a joint appointment with the Department of Food Science and Technology (College of Food Agriculture and Environmental Sciences), and the Department of Environmental Health Sciences (College of Public Health). ‘”These results would indicate that the neither the detergents nor sanitizers used in current cleaning protocols are effective against the norovirus at the currently used concentrations.”

The scientists acknowledge that dairy products themselves could have protected the virus from heat and the sanitizing solutions. When the solutions were tested against MNV-1 in isolation, they were effective at killing more of the virus, but still not enough to eradicate the virus completely. Building off these research results, Pascall and Li’s team will next investigate if Hepatitis A and influenza viruses are able to get past current washing and sanitization protocols.

“Proper sanitation and handling remain the single biggest factor that can prevent cross-contamination of food and dishware at food service establishments, said Pascall. “However, it appears that we need to identify better agents or methods to significantly reduce the presence of norovirus and work to update the protocols.” 

A PhD thesis related to this work is available at http://etd.ohiolink.edu/view.cgi/Feliciano%20Lizanel.pdf?osu1345432152.