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Tips for cleaning and sanitizing your kitchen

Vicki Hayman

A clean kitchen is one way we prevent food-borne illness. The kitchen is the main place for food preparation and eating, so it is a hot spot for all types of pathogens (disease-causing microorganisms) that can cause food-borne illness. Dangerous bacteria can lurk around countertops, surface areas, and on appliances. Bacteria can be on a surface that appears clean, and can contaminate food and cause illness.

Cleanliness in the kitchen is a crucial component in reducing the risk of food-borne illness. Salmonella, Campylobacter, and Norovirus are the most common microorganisms that cause food-borne illness in the kitchen. The United States Department of Agriculture has a two-step method commonly used in restaurants and other food service operations, which can be used at home. The USDA process involves cleaning first and then sanitizing second to avoid the spread of microorganisms.

The first step is to clean the kitchen surfaces and sink with warm, soapy water to remove residues such as dirt and other debris that might be visible. Surfaces include counters, appliances, cutting boards, dishes, knives, utensils, pots, and pans. Rinse with clean water. Air dry or dry with a clean, single-use paper towel. Paper towels are ideal for cleaning because they can be used once and thrown away. This prevents bacteria from multiplying and being spread throughout the kitchen. If clean kitchen clothes or towels are used, they should be replaced daily and washed frequently in the hot cycle of a washing machine. Sponges are not recommended for kitchen use because they have deep crevices where bacteria can hide and spread from one surface to another. Also, don’t forget to wash your hands with soap and running water to keep them clean.

Cleaning is an important step in removing bacteria from the kitchen. Pathogenic bacteria can live on surfaces for a long time. For example, Campylobacter can survive in your kitchen for up to four hours and salmonella can live for up to 32 hours. Cleaning with warm, soapy water will remove dirt, grime, and some bacteria from a surface, but will not kill bacteria.

After cleaning, the next step is sanitizing to reduce any remaining bacteria to a safe level. There are a variety of sanitizers you can use at home. Some wipes may act as a chemical contaminant on food surfaces because they were originally designed to clean bathrooms, not to wipe hands or clean counters. Some disinfecting wipes are too concentrated of a solution for food contact surfaces.

Pour or spray the sanitizing solution on surfaces. Leave sanitizer on the surface for the suggested amount of time. Allow to air dry or dry with a clean paper towel. Be sure the surfaces are completely dry before using them or the sink again. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions on the label if using commercial sanitizers. Some commercial sanitizers require food surfaces to be rinsed after using the sanitizer. Sanitizing is most effective on clean surfaces. So, don’t skip the clean step! Also, remember to wash your hands after the surface is cleaned and sanitized.

Effective cleaning involves both cleaning and sanitizing surfaces before and after use. To prevent chemical contamination of food, never reuse cleaning product containers and keep chemicals away from foods.

The Wyoming Department of Agriculture recommends making homemade sanitizer by mixing unscented chlorine bleach with water to make a solution of 50 to 100 parts per million (ppm).

Do not use scented, concentrated, or gel bleach because it is not food safe.

The ideal concentration for a bleach sanitizer for food contact surfaces is 50–100 ppm. To know you have met this concentration, use chlorine test strips to test the mixed solution. Do not use pool test strips. Too concentrated of a solution can be harmful, but too little can be ineffective.

Room temperature water should be used to minimize chlorine loss in the solution. Never mix bleach with ammonia, any other cleaner, or chemical. Chlorine solutions must be made at least weekly and stored in a dark place.

Cleanliness in the kitchen begins before you start to prepare food. Everything that comes into contact with your hands or food must be thoroughly cleaned and sanitized. Harmful bacteria that are not visible may thrive and multiply in food prepared by unclean hands in an unclean kitchen, so before preparing food, get off to a clean start. Follow this two-step method to leave your kitchen spotless and eliminate the pathogens you can’t see.



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