Properly cleaning your kitchen is important if you want to avoid foodborne illness and keep yourself and your family healthy. You need to thoroughly clean the food contact surfaces—the counters, cutting boards, pans, plates, and utensils that will touch your food. Kitchen counters can be cleaned using store-bought cleaning solutions, or you can make your own at home by adding a teaspoon of unscented bleach to a quart of water. Let surfaces air-dry or pat them dry with fresh paper towels. Bleach solutions get less effective with time, so discard unused portions.
Cutting boards are an essential item in every kitchen and play a role in almost every home-cooked meal. Unfortunately, partly because of their frequent use, they create a huge potential for cross-contamination and the spread of bacteria. To begin, it is best to have multiple boards for different purposes (one for produce and two more for raw and cooked meats, at minimum). Label the boards so you don’t confuse them.
When it comes to the board itself, keep several factors in mind when deciding what to buy. Proponents of wooden boards argue that because wood is so porous, any bacteria not washed off will absorb into the wood, where they will die. Wood also doesn’t get scratched or dented from sharp knives, so the board will remain safe to use for a long time. Bamboo has similar characteristics to wood but is not quite as long-lasting. Plastic, on the other hand, is nonporous, so any bacteria on the board can be washed off. Most plastic cutting boards are dishwasher-safe, where hot water will not only clean but also sanitize them. However, they are also more likely to get scratches or nicks from cutting, which creates areas in which bacteria can hide. If you do choose to use plastic, replace them periodically. Glass cutting boards are good from a food-safety perspective because they are nonporous and dishwasher-friendly, but they very quickly dull knives.
Cutting boards should be washed with hot, soapy water or placed in the dishwasher after each use. You can also sanitize a cutting board with the diluted bleach solution you used on the countertops. (Let it air-dry completely before using it again.)
Chefs on cooking shows often have a dish towel handy that they use to wipe up spills, clean the edges of plates, and wipe their hands during food prep. The problem is that wiping cloths can spread bacteria around your kitchen, so it’s important to use them carefully. A good rule of thumb: if you are cleaning up raw meat spills, including the juices from raw poultry or beef, use a paper towel spritzed with counter cleaner (whether from the store or a homemade bleach solution) and dispose of it immediately after use. Then wash your hands thoroughly before returning to food prep. If you are cleaning up a spill from a cooked item or a spill from non-animal sources (oil, flour, sugar, beverages, etc.), it’s okay to use a wiping cloth or sponge.
A word about sponges: sanitize them regularly. One easy way is to toss sponges in the dishwasher. You can also microwave a damp sponge for one minute or boil it on the stovetop. Even if you clean your kitchen sponge daily, remember to replace it frequently. If a sponge starts to smell at any time, toss it out. After each use, rinse and wring out the sponge completely to wash off any loose food or debris, and then store it in a dry location. Don’t use a sponge for wiping up raw meat spills unless you sanitize it immediately.
You can also check out our Important Food Safety Tips for Cleaning Your Refrigerator and our Important Food Safety Tips for Washing Your Food.
Other relevant links:
- Learn how to clean and reorganize your refrigerator. See: Read These Important Food Safety Tips for Cleaning Your Refrigerator
- How to keep sponges and dish cloths clean and your kitchen safe. See: The Dangers of Sponges and Dish Cloths
- How to maintain a germ-free kitchen. See: Ensure Your Kitchen Countertop is Safe