One of the basic tenets of food safety, according to the United States Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (USDA FSIS), is to clean.
The fundamentals of food safety are Clean Separate Cook Chill
It may seem as though cleaning the kitchen is fairly straightforward, but in reality there are many considerations to prevent foodborne illness.
We all have cleaning habits we practice with specific procedures in our home kitchen that we give very little thought to doing. We believe they are the best way to get things clean.
We buy the same cleaning products, use them for specific purposes and try to reduce the amount of work needed to clean as much as possible.
What is the safest way to clean surfaces and equipment in our kitchens to be sure we are not cross contaminating our food with pathogens that could cause foodborne illness in ourselves and our families?
What Needs To Be Cleaned When?
When you think about what in the kitchen should be cleaned frequently and regularly, we should start with everything that you touch. Easy, right? Sure!
Just like most produce before you eat it, kitchen surfaces need to be habitually cleaned.
Most of the time, you clean the kitchen counter after you use it without even thinking about it. However, some parts of the kitchen we seldom think to clean.
- Cutting Boards – it is important to have separate cutting boards for specific uses and keep them from mingling. Produce needs it own board, raw and cooked meat should be separated. But they all need to be sanitized because cutting boards are notorious for holding onto germs in the grooves and chinks.
- Sinks — not just the bowl, but also the drain and the other moving parts, how about the grit that builds up around the lip?
- Counters – not just after you use it, but you should also clean before you use it. How many times do people in your family put the newspaper, a backpack, purse, or their shoes onto the counter throughout the day before you prepare a meal? Yet we rarely take the time to sanitize it before we use it. We remember washing it the night before after we cleaned up the dinner dishes. Many things can happen between then and now.
- Faucets – lever handles, spray nozzles and faucet necks all get touched by us or splashed during food preparation but rarely get disinfected. This is another good place to regularly disinfect with your bleach solution.
- Cabinet and refrigerator handles and doors – when cooking, we open cabinets grabbing the handles, our kids open drawers, and even the family pet rubs against the doors looking for treats but do we routinely disinfect the knobs?
- Refrigerator and freezer – should be cleaned every month. Nutrition Action offers this cleaning tip: The best way to clean is using paper towels, hot water, and dish soap. Once clean and dry, you can disinfect the clean surface with your own sanitizer. Naturally you want to wipe any spills immediately between cleanings. Cleaning a freezer in use is more difficult. If you can clean out long forgotten foods and make room in the freezer for cleaning walls, door, and shelf, it will be easier for you. You can use warm water and soap to clean the surfaces. You can remove the shelves for cleaning by temporarily putting the frozen food in a cooler. Don’t forget, clean it inside and out. The handles, top and doors need to be cleaned regularly.
- Inside the cabinets and drawers (empty and clean especially crumbs and debris) – most of us don’t clean inside our kitchen drawers or cabinets, we just put the clean silver and utensils inside a dirty drawer. It can be shocking to occasionally empty the silverware drawer and find crumbs, hair, dust and other things that have fallen into it over time.
- Cloths or sponges — The Hygiene Council advises that all cloths, sponges and towels be washed in water above 140 degrees F (60 degrees C) to kill germs or they should be disinfected regularly. Most agree a washcloth should be changed out for a clean one every day. Experts encourage wet sponges (so they don’t catch fire) to be microwaved for one minute on full power. Running your sponge through the dishwasher can also be effective in killing germs if you use the hottest setting for the longest time.
- Reusable shopping bags – these are seldom washed but get tossed everywhere and filled with all manner of foods. These should be washed in the washing machine regularly with hot water and detergent.
- Kitchen trash can – When you replace the trash bag, you can use that time to clean out the interior of the can and lid. Disinfect with the homemade bleach solution.
- Light switch or disposal switch – Because so many people touch these switches all day long, it is good to wash them to remove any dirt and then disinfect them with your bleach solution.
- Hands – wash with soap and hot water for a minimum of 20 seconds frequently but especially at key times in the food preparation chain. Wash before, during and after food preparation and also after handling raw meat, ready to eat foods and eggs. Also wash after touching your face, your pet, your phone and other non-food items.
What Products Are Safest But Most Effective?
There are many chemical options for cleaning messes in the kitchen.
Just looking down one aisle in your supermarket can make your head spin and your wallet scream!
Which choice is the most effective for actually killing common germs that could lead to food poisoning? Do you need the fragrance and colors to get the job done? Does the higher price equal better cleaning?
The multitude of products for use in the kitchen may not be worth your investment compared to a few other, simpler cleaning methods.
Handwashing may be the most effective way to prevent the spread of germs in the kitchen and you only need soap, water and the proper technique!
Hand sanitizer in the kitchen won’t clean debris from your hands as well as soap and water. To be effective, they need at least 60% alcohol to kill germs and even then won’t kill all the germs.
Hot water, soap and a good scrub are effective for kitchen surfaces too such as counters, cabinets, sink and equipment.
You might want to try new microfiber cloths to clean the kitchen as they require no cleaning agents.
To sanitize thoroughly, experts agree a homemade bleach solution is the most cost-effective yet efficient cleaning solution you can use. However, don’t make too much at one time as it will lose potency over time.
1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach in 1 gallon of water
Here’s a video from the USDA Food Safety program that covers the importance of cleaning and washing in the kitchen.
To Sponge or Washcloth?
This seems to be an age-old argument with strong opinions on both sides.
Which cleaning method is safer at reducing the spread of germs in the kitchen — the sponge or the washcloth?
It seems almost everyone has a definitive opinion on why they use one or the other, but rarely do we actually know if there has been science behind that decision.
Have you heard that a kitchen sponge can be 200,000 times dirtier than a toilet seat? That is pretty scary if you use a sponge exclusively in the kitchen.
In fact, one study found that there were 10 million bacteria per square inch on a sponge and one million per square inch on a cloth.
Whichever you choose, be sure to sanitize them properly.
Using Dish Towels
Most kitchens have a dish towel hanging somewhere.
How you use the dish towel, how often you clean it, and even replace it are important to reduce the spread of pathogens.
A clean dish towel is worthwhile for drying newly washed hands.
A clean dish towel designated for only drying clean dishes will work also.
But a dish towel that is used for everything from wiping up spills, drying water spilled after watering plants, drying the counter after it is wiped down, wiping a child’s messy face, or drying up water sloshed from the dog’s bowl – – and then drying clean dishes – – will eventually lead to foodborne illness. The pathogens are merely being passed from one situation to the next.
Unfortunately, frequency and thoroughness of sanitizing the dish towel will determine its safety.
Another consideration for researchers was how long a towel was kept in service. Apparently, when used for an extended period it becomes harder to sanitize and should be replaced. We shouldn’t let it get ragged.
The Newest Player — Microfiber Cloths
You may have seen new microfiber cloths used for cleaning kitchen messes.
They are manufactured to be fibrous compared to the usual kitchen washcloth so it takes less effort and no chemicals to fully clean a mess.
Most state that simply using water will clean most any mess and some are better the less water used.
But will this clean as well as disinfect so that we can keep food safety a priority?
Microbiologists have reviewed these cloths to test their bacteria fighting strength and have found that, for everyday messes, they will clean well. They recommend that you will still properly disinfect with a chemical cleaner after handling raw meat and poultry as well as cleaning up after someone in the household is sick.
Keep Germs Out, Too
As we strive to eliminate as many chemicals from our home kitchens, it is important to be mindful of keeping the germs out as well.
Reducing the cleaning products we use shouldn’t mean skimping on fighting harmful bacteria that could cause food poisoning.
Learning what and when and how you need to clean everything in the kitchen will help you keep your family safe at home.