Microwave oven can sterilize sponges, scrub pads

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Microwave ovens may be good for more than just zapping the leftovers; they may also help protect your family.

University of Florida engineering researchers have found that microwaving kitchen sponges and plastic scrubbers -- known to be common carriers of the bacteria and viruses that cause food-borne illnesses sterilizes them rapidly and effectively.

That means that the estimated 90-plus percent of Americans with microwaves in their kitchens have a powerful weapon against E. coli, salmonella and other bugs at the root of increasing incidents of potentially deadly food poisoning and other illnesses.

"Basically what we find is that we could knock out most bacteria in two minutes," said Gabriel Bitton, a UF professor of environmental engineering. "People often put their sponges and scrubbers in the dishwasher, but if they really want to decontaminate them and not just clean them, they should use the microwave."

Bitton, an expert on wastewater microbiology, co-authored a paper about the research that appears in the December issue of the Journal of Environmental Health, the most recent issue. The other authors are Richard Melker, a UF professor of anesthesiology, and Dong Kyoo Park, a UF biomedical engineering doctoral student.

Food-borne illnesses afflict at least 6 million Americans annually, causing at least 9,000 deaths and $4 billion to $6 billion in medical costs and other expenses. Home kitchens are a common source of contamination, as pathogens from uncooked eggs, meat and vegetables find their way onto countertops, utensils and cleaning tools. Previous studies have shown that sponges and dishcloths are common carriers of the pathogens, in part because they often remain damp, which helps the bugs survive, according to the UF paper.

Bitton said the UF researchers soaked sponges and scrubbing pads in raw wastewater containing a witch's brew of fecal bacteria, viruses, protozoan pa

Contact: Gabriel Bitton
University of Florida

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