Insights & Actions for Healthy Living
Reducing the Threat of Illness-Causing Germs in Your Kitchen

Reducing the Threat of Illness-Causing Germs in Your Kitchen

Detective Foodsafe® encourages us to keep all kitchen surfaces — counters, utensils, cutting boards, and handles — clean and disinfected or sanitized.

But what does that really mean you should do to achieve a germ-free meal preparation space?

Many areas of the kitchen which are high touch points don’t get cleaned as often as they should and other areas could be cleaned several times each day. Germs can spread quickly without us realizing it.

What is the difference between common terms for our washing and scrubbing efforts as well as their effectiveness to get the job done?

Detective Foodsafe is here to help us determine what type of solutions we need for the various surfaces in our kitchen to keep them as germ-free as possible.


Cleaning is defined as the practice of making something clean (yes, that’s really what the dictionary says).

Detective Foodsafe explains it more practically with respect to pathogens to let us know that cleaning removes dirt, debris, and germs from a surface — those things that can make us sick.

Removing substances that are unwanted is the goal of cleaning.

You can clean surfaces using mechanical means, such as scrubbing, or by chemical means using a solvent of some kind.


The use of a chemical to destroy bacteria on a surface is known as disinfecting. Disinfecting is not effective at killing spores, as it generally uses an antimicrobial agent.

Detective Foodsafe reminds us that the purpose of disinfecting a surface is not to remove debris therefor the surface should be cleaned of dirt or debris before it is disinfected.

It is important to remember that disinfectants can be harmful to humans and pets so use them carefully, reading and following the directions on the label.

There are airborne disinfectants that can clean microorganisms in the air by spraying an aerosol substance.

Heat can also be used as a disinfectant, such as when you put a sponge into the microwave to kill germs.


When a surface is sanitized, the number of germs is reduced to a standardized level and if often mandated in any type of commercial kitchen, such as in a restaurant or healthcare facility.

Sanitizing substances can clean and disinfect.

The most well-known sanitizers are common hand sanitizers. These are liquid alcohol-based formulas used in the place of hand washing with soap and water.

Which Cleaning Product to Use?

There are a variety of different cleaning products you can use depending on the microorganism you are trying to destroy.

  1. Soap and water: used to remove dirt and debris from a surface (and your hands); it can also begin to kill some germs.
  2. Bleach: most widely used disinfectant, use once a surface has been cleaned with soap and water. It is important to take precautions when using bleach, as it stains fabric and some surfaces. Besides irritating your eyes, it can pose a health hazard if breathed in so keep the area well ventilated and wear protection when using. Never mix bleach and ammonia or other cleaning products.
  3. Vinegar: some people use this to clean surfaces in their homes but, even in an undiluted form, vinegar won’t kill most bacteria and is not recommended to use as a disinfectant
  4. Alcohol: using a mixture of 70% ethanol or isopropanol (rubbing) alcohol diluted in distilled water is effective in killing a variety of bacteria. Higher concentrations are needed to kill viruses.
  5. Quaternary ammonium compounds (quats): often used to disinfect surfaces at a ratio of 200 ppm. Quats are also used to kill algae. A quat solution must be tested every 2 hours to ensure that it contains the right concentration to be effective.
  6. Cleaning cloths: experts warn that dish cloths and towels used in the kitchen need to be properly cleaned on a regular basis to avoid spreading germs to the surfaces you are trying to clean. Sponges also need to be replaced every few weeks or thoroughly cleaned by microwaving a wet sponge for about 2 minutes. The EPA recommends using mircrofiber cloths which are cleaned daily instead of cotton kitchen cloths.
  7. Commercial cleaning products: there are a wide variety of commercial solutions you can buy. You can use a solution to disinfect germs or treat mold but in general, soap and water are sufficient to clean a kitchen surface. Read the label to be sure the product will disinfect your kitchen surfaces as desired (kills Salmonella after poultry preparation or E.Coli after beef for example). 

Important Points to Know

Most of the time in our homes we will only clean and disinfect surfaces and other items. Sanitizing solutions such as quats are usually reserved for professional kitchens.

Detective Foodsafe wants you to know that, because a disinfectant is designed to kill microorganisms commonly associated with food poisoning, using a disinfectant on kitchen surfaces is the recommended action to keep germs away from your food.

You should clean, disinfect, and then rinse kitchen surfaces. Read and follow label directions for your safety.

Did you know that the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) regulates sanitizer and disinfectant solutions to ensure they meet requirements for effectiveness and safety? All products used for disinfecting or sanitizing must be certified by the EPA before it can be sold.

Disinfectants and sanitizers are supposed to list the specific microorganisms they will kill right on the label. Sanitizers are certified to kill only bacteria while disinfectants can be certified for bacteria, viruses, fungi, mold, and mildew.

A very important consideration when cleaning or disinfecting kitchen (or bathroom) surfaces is contact time, according to Detective Foodsafe. The label should tell you how long a chemical needs to be used in order to properly kill the microorganism you are targeting. A general rule of thumb is leaving a product on the surface for at least two minutes.

It is recommended that you disinfect children’s toys regularly, too, to prevent the spread of microorganisms, especially viruses.

Mixing Bleach to Disinfect

Detective Foodsafe wants you to have this handy mixing instruction so that you can mix your own disinfecting solution.

Bleach always needs to be diluted with water before using. Don’t use full strength bleach on household surfaces.

1 gallon of water

1 Tablespoon of bleach

Mix well. Store in a spray bottle.

Apply to the surface you wish to disinfect; allow to stand for 5 minutes; rinse thoroughly with water and air dry.

Be sure to properly ventilate the area where bleach is being used and protect your hands, eyes and skin as bleach is an irritant.

Please don’t mix bleach with other household cleaners.

Remember, cleaning our kitchen is important to our health. That means it’s important to do it properly!


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