If you want to eat dinner from a clean surface, you might try your bathroom.
A study being released Wednesday found that kitchen sinks have more germs than bathroom sinks. The study also found that three-quarters of American kitchen cloths and sponges are heavily contaminated with harmful bacteria, meaning proper clean-up can be difficult.
The study was sponsored by the makers of the cleaning product Lysol, but the company did not design the study. Samples were taken by independent environmental scientists in 20 homes with children in each of seven regions, including the U.K., the U.S., Germany, Africa, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia and India.
Internationally, 90 percent of kitchen cloths, 46 percent of kitchen sinks, 38 percent of bathroom sinks and 14 percent of children's toys failed the test, meaning they had a total bacteria count of more than 100,000 per square centimeter.
The bacteria included E. coli and salmonella, which were probably carried in by food, small children or pets, researchers said. They can cause diarrhea or infections with flu-like symptons that are especially dangerous to small children, the elderly and pregnant women.
''Bacteria find a happy home in sponges. When you wipe, you take up food and drink and bacteria can feed on that,'' said Charles Gerba, an environmental microbiology professor at the University of Arizona who was not involved with the research.
John Oxford, who led the study and is a professor of virology at St Bartholomew's and The Royal London Hospital, Queen Mary's School of Medicine and Dentistry, warned that families put great effort into cleaning toilets, but not nearly as much time into keeping their kitchens clean.
''You could eat your dinner in a U.S. toilet but there is a lack of appreciation that kitchen sinks can be contaminated with fecal organisms, either coming in with fruit and vegetables or from pets and children,'' he said.
But keeping clean is not impossible. Dean Cliver, a professor of food safety at the University of California, suggests sterilizing sponges with a one-minute high-powered blast in the microwave, washing hands and avoiding rinsing chicken in the sink.
Or forget sponges entirely -- professor Elizabeth Scott of the Simmons Center for Hygiene and Health in Boston recommends cleaning food spills with a paper towel and dumping it.
Ironically, Gerba said his own findings suggest that living like a slob is better than meticulously cleaning the kitchen with a dirty sponge. A study he carried out 10 years ago found that 10 percent of kitchen sponges contained salmonella.
One of his most astounding findings was that bachelors had the cleanest kitchens. They just threw their dishes into the kitchen sink and didn't spread bacteria by wiping surfaces.
Another of Gerba's findings was that your post-flush toilet bowl is indeed cleaner than your kitchen sink.
''That's why your dog drinks from it,'' he said. ''He probably looks at you drinking from the kitchen sink and thinks: 'Humans. That's just so gross.'''