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In the Kitchen: Prevent the Spread of Infection

Bacteria can spread anywhere in the kitchen. So, it's important to wash your hands and kitchen surfaces before and after preparing food. Bacteria can spread from one surface to another without you knowing it. If the bacteria get into food, they can cause foodborne illnesses.

Cleaning vs. disinfecting

Many people believe that if it appears clean, it's safe. A kitchen can look perfectly clean, yet be contaminated with a lot of organisms that cause diseases. Cleaning and disinfecting are 2 different processes. Cleaning removes grease, food residues, and dirt, as well as a large number of bacteria. But cleaning may also spread other bacteria around. Disinfecting kills organisms (bacteria, virus, and parasites).

Disinfectants and sanitizers are widely available as liquids, sprays, or wipes. Any of these work well, killing almost all the bacteria and viruses. You can also make your own inexpensive disinfectant by adding 1 tablespoon of liquid chlorine bleach to 1 gallon of water. Store the solution in a spray bottle and make a new solution every 2 to 3 days.

You should clean thoroughly before you disinfect as buildup of food or grease will not allow the disinfectant to penetrate.

How you dry your dishes and utensils also plays an important role in kitchen sanitation. From least effective to most effective, drying processes can be ranked:

  • Drying with a dishtowel (least effective)
  • Drying with a paper towel
  • Air drying
  • Drying in the dishwasher
  • Sterilizing cycle in dishwasher (if so equipped)

Commonly contaminated kitchen gadgets

Items in the kitchen become infected by contact with contaminated people, foods, pets, or other environmental sources. Kitchen items that often become contaminated include:

Can openers

Tip: Whether hand-held or electric, clean after each use. After cleaning, wipe with your bleach solution (or commercial disinfectant) and allow to air dry.

Cutting boards

Tip: If practical, keep 2 cutting boards, 1 for meat and 1 for fruits and vegetables. Clean after each use. The meat cutting board should be sprayed or wiped with your bleach solution and allowed to air dry. Rinse the board in clear water before the next use to help remove residual bleach taste from the board.

Countertops. Most people use their countertops not only for food preparation, but also for possibly contaminated items like grocery bags, mail, or household objects

Tip: Clean them thoroughly, then spray or wipe with bleach solution. Allow to air dry. If there is a residual "frost" from the bleach, it may be wiped off with a clean cloth.

Dishrags, towels, sponges, and scrubbers

Tip: These tend to be highly contaminated. You shouldn't use a sponge in the kitchen. Use a clean dishcloth daily. After use, rinse thoroughly and air dry. If you use the dishcloth for wiping the floor or wiping up after pets or any general cleaning, send it to the laundry and get a clean one. Scrubbers (metal or plastic) should be washed in the dishwasher each time you run it. If you do not have a dishwasher, rinse them thoroughly to remove any visible food residue and soak them in your bleach solution for 10 minutes.

Garbage disposals

Tip: The film that builds up on the inside of the disposal is teeming with bacteria. Use a long-handled angled brush and a chlorinated cleansing powder to scrub the inside walls of the disposal and the underside of the rubber splash guard. Allow the cleanser to remain in place (don't rinse) until the next time the disposal is used. This gives the chlorinated disinfectant time to kill the bacteria. This should be done at least once a month. CAUTION: Make sure the disposal is off and cannot be turned on during this procedure.

Sink drains and P-trap. This is the J-shaped pipe under the sink that retains a quantity of water to block sewer gas from seeping back up through the sink

Tip: Before going to bed, pour 1 cup of hot water into the drain. Wait a minute for the drain to soak up heat from the water then pour in 1 cup of chlorine bleach (undiluted). Allow to stand overnight. This should be done every 1 week to 2 weeks. Not only will this help sanitize the drain and keep odor down, but it will also help keep the drain running freely.


Tip: The fridge should be periodically cleaned thoroughly. After cleaning, it should be wiped with your bleach solution and the food replaced. Spills should be cleaned up immediately. Food should not be allowed to mold or decay in the refrigerator.

Complex appliances like food processors, blenders, and eggbeaters

Tip: The dishwasher remains the best method for cleaning these items. Visible food materials should be removed from crevices, recesses, or tight areas and the washable parts of the appliances placed in the dishwasher.