Is It Sanitary? Does It Matter?

Hello,
I know someone who picks up their dog’s poop using kitchen utensils. They think it’s okay because they bleached the utensils and or wash them in the dishwasher. They also use these utensils to prepare their own food.
I do not agree!  
Please advise!!!
Signed,
Horrified in Horseshoe Bay

Dear Horrified,

There’s some stuff to unpack here, and I’m hoping, if you were staying at this person’s home, that it includes your overnight bag, at your own home, for your sanity.

Sometimes it does not matter if something is technically clean, sanitary, or sterile, but please keep reading. I agree with you, not the acquaintance. The acquaintance may be right on a technicality, but I’m throwing a red card on the play in practice.

Society has expectations. Some are good. For example, we expect people to wash their hands after they use the restroom and before preparing food. Yay, hygiene.

Some are obnoxious, like some gender expectations, but we’re getting better as a whole. Slowly.

There are standards of hygiene, some cultures have many and some only have a few. In some parts of the world, the left hand is for personal hygiene and to do something like touch produce in a store or market with a left hand would be horrifying to bystanders.

This acquaintance of yours has broken a societal expectation. (And some health codes, but they don’t live in a commercial kitchen, I’m assuming.)

They may be technically correct that the item in question is clean and that bleach or the dishwasher can sanitize it, but it really doesn’t matter.

Here, in the US, we may be uptight about many things, which can be frustrating in some regards, but food safety standards have a purpose. We separate kitchens and bathrooms, and that includes pets and their excrement. Cottage food laws that govern what can and cannot be sold after being prepared in a home kitchen exist for a reason. (I live in South Carolina, so I’m linking to information about South Carolina Cottage food laws. Please search for your own state before trying to sell any food made in your home.) Home kitchens aren’t inspected by health officials and can’t be held to standards that keep people safe.

Humans are fallible, we all make mistakes, and we are all imperfect. Maybe one day, Horrified’s acquaintance got distracted and set the utensil on the counter before it was fully clean, or maybe they don’t fully clean it. Using a kitchen utensil to clean up excrement invites the potential for cross-contamination that does not exist if the utensil is only used for its intended purposes in the kitchen. This is why we have standards to prevent mistakes and accidents that have the potential to cause harm.

Clean up any accidents of this nature with paper towels or rags that can go through the laundry. Do not use items that make direct contact with food. It’s just asking for trouble.

The practice described by Horrified’s host made their guest (and heck me) very uncomfortable, and that is a big part of the issue and also needs to be discussed. Just because something you do is safe doesn’t mean it’s always ok. If you are making your guest uncomfortable*, you’re breaking the most basic rules of etiquette. (Hmm, this sounds remarkably like the consent discussions my teens are tired of having with me.)

*Great big caveat here: if the guest is behaving poorly, crossing boundaries, making you uncomfortable, etc., etiquette goes right out the window. Defend your space and yourself first and foremost. Apologize later if you have to.

Can you Home-Eccers out there, do me a favor and reassure me that the idea of using a kitchen utensil to clean up after a pet accident has NEVER crossed your mind? I need to know that this question is an outlier and that some common sense still exists. I want to accept food from other homes without having this question cross my mind ever again.

Send your questions to helpme@home-ec101.com.

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13 thoughts on “Is It Sanitary? Does It Matter?”

  1. I am having such a hard time understanding how someone even gets into that habit. How did it start? Why does it continue? Make it make sense!

    Reply
  2. My ‘pet’ peeve (excuse the pun) are those folks that put their own dishes in the floor (or even worse, leave on kitchen counter top) for their pets to eat directly off.

    Reply
  3. Your post reminded me of a childhood event, which I admit I played a guilty part. We were camping out with the Scouts, and a severe thunderstorm came up during the night. Of course we all had to pee. We brought a cooking pot into our tent and all used it. In the morning we were severely criticized for doing so. Of course we never did it again. Fast forward to present day: I cringe at the thought of associating any kitchen implement with body substances, having been embarrassed into your side of the argument at an early age.

    Reply
    • Oh, I’m so sorry for bringing up a memory that makes you cringe. My brain does a great job of that late at night. 🙄
      You were kids and you were being resourceful if a little misguided. Thunderstorms can be terrifying, especially to kids.
      Know better, do better… and you do, so all is well. 🙂

      Reply
  4. I adore cats and dogs and birds and ferrets and rabbits and All the Animals (though we only have a cat family member now), and expect some mess and accidents and occasional fur in the butter. (Not really, but a Berner owner told me anyone considering that dog breed better be okay with it.)

    But no. Hard stop. No. Never. Ever. And when cleaning up cat barf, or Litter Genie full bags, they will not go into the kitchen trash can. We’ll bring a bag to the mess or if necessary the kitchen trash can to the mess and bring that bag outside to the garbage. And I’m not a squeaky clean house keeper.

    Reply
  5. Cleanliness is next to Godliness! People are talking too many short cuts these days.

    My pet peeve is people preparing food with they hands, insisting that they are clean, but they are still touching everything in the kitchen.

    Reply
  6. My MIL crawls under the bed to get the dust off the box springs, yet she tears up lettuces and lays them in the bottom of the sink to rinse them.

    I would rather have a dusty box spring slat than eat raw greens that have been in a nasty kitchen sink.

    YMMV

    Reply
    • That is some serious dedication to dust eradication.

      I hear you on just lying greens in the sink… I use a colander, but I’m still a sink scrubber. My kids hate my kitchen sink standards, there have been many callbacks from bed to finish that job. . . (She who cooks does not clean, but I’m still boss of this kitchen and it will be done to my standards)

      Also? I hate my current sink/setup. My next big project, after our current one, will be to get a nice sink in place of this shallow +laminate nonsense I currently have.

      Reply
  7. I am with you. I would be horrified. Now if someone would help me know how to keep reminding the hubs that rinsing hands and washing them with soap and water are not the same??? Especially after a toilet visit???

    Reply
    • I have an awesome colleague that gave me a wonderful cross stitching for the kids’ bathroom. It says “Was that really 20 seconds?” It’s a nice little reminder without MY having to maintain a constant verbal reminder. . .

      Reply
  8. Old Chinese saying: He who cooks carrots and peas/pees in same pot is unsanitary.
    I suggest the reader maintain a six-food distance from this acquaintance.
    And maybe wear PPE when in conversation with her and her family members.

    Reply
    • I don’t know if the “food” was a typo or purposeful, but it made me laugh. If this is one of those people that someone must maintain a relationship with, I hope all food-related events can be at a restaurant.

      Reply

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