Keeping the kitchen clean and sanitized

My evolution from not-chef to top chef has happened somewhat slowly over the past 20 years. The first full family meal I made as a kid (beyond boiled hot dogs or scrambled eggs) was baked chicken breast, baked potatoes and steamed broccoli. I was in grade 7. It was a class project for Mrs. Kalisz’ family studies course (I also sewed a pencil case in that class). I don’t remember the food safety particulars of the meal too well, either in preparation or clean up.

During my teenage years, my cooking experiences moved more towards grilling meat on the BBQ during the summer (no thermometer use or real concern for cross-contamination that I can remember). At 19, I left home, moved to Guelph for school and didn’t do a whole lot of cooking until the summer between my first and second year – when I lived in a house with a bunch of other students. We made lots of cheap food, preferring to save money for beer. I whipped out my grade-7-tested baked chicken recipe and made that a few times, grilled lots of hamburgers/hot dogs/chicken and relied on a lot of processed foods.During that summer I never really thought about food safety — other than using the made-up excuse of "dysentery" to call in to work sick one day — so I could go see the Red Hot Chili Peppers play a free day-time show in Toronto.

Since then I’ve gone from living as a student to being a family man and my cooking interest and practice has changed. I now try to make at least half of our meals, have quite a few go-to recipes, and really enjoy meal planning and dishes (mainly because I rock out in the kitchen while doing them). Food safety, in all areas of my life, has also become more prominent. As much as I spend time on food safety/communication/etc. during the day, I’m still just a normal dude in the kitchen when I go home. A dude that doesn’t want to make his family sick from not cleaning up after roasting whole chickens or making fajitas.

Kathleen Purvis from the Charlotte Observer called me up a couple of weeks ago to chat about what to worry about when cleaning in a home, from a food safety specialist’s standpoint. I gave her some info on what we do in our home. Kathleen also talked to Doug, and barfblog friends Linda Harris and David Sweat and cutting board guru Dean Cliver for their suggestions.

Professional kitchens use a sanitizing solution made with 1 teaspoon household bleach in 4 cups of water (our friend Pete Snyder points out that this is too high — 50ppm is the target, which would be about a teaspoon of bleach per gallon of water – ben). It’s sprayed on counters and cutting boards. Experts disagree on the need to use it at home, but if you do, do it correctly: Let sprayed surfaces air-dry — drying with dish towels may recontaminate the surface. Always clean before you sanitize. If chlorine comes in contact with dirt or soil, it can no longer sanitize. Don’t use more than 1 teaspoon chlorine — stronger isn’t better. And change it about every 5 days. Chlorine dissipates quickly.

If you hand-wash dishes, air-dry in a rack. Dirty or wet dish towels can recontaminate clean dishes. To reduce soap buildup in a dishwasher, occasionally fill the soap dispenser with baking soda or place a small cup of vinegar on the top shelf, then run the dishwater empty.

Clean sink regularly with household cleanser, especially after washing or rinsing raw meat (rinsing or washing raw meat isn’t best practice see this -ben). Don’t forget to clean the faucet handle .

With the fridge, Every day, wipe down the handles, including the underside. Every week, throw out anything that’s past its date or shows age. Every 3 to 6 months, empty shelves and clean the inside with 1/4 cup baking soda in 1 quart warm water, then spray with a bleach solution and air-dry. Remove drawers and clean under them. Before you return the food, wipe jars to remove drips. Clean the rubber gasket inside the door to ensure a tight seal. Vacuum the coils in the back and empty and clean the drip pan if necessary.
Find a place besides the kitchen to clean turtle or frog habitats and empty pet bowls, or clean and sanitize the sink before you start washing fresh food.

Most scientists believe wooden cutting boards are safest, as long as they are kept clean, sanitized and dry (I think that both wood and plastic have risks that need to be managed -ben). Studies have shown wood hampers bacteria growth, while bacteria thrive in scars on plastic. Either way, keep them clean by running them through the dishwasher, or sanitize by spritzing with a weak bleach solution. Always change boards or clean with soapy water after preparing raw food — even vegetables. They grow in dirt, after all.

You know you’re not supposed to put cooked food on the same surface you used for raw food. But it’s not just a problem with cutting boards. You touch all kinds of things while you’re handling raw food: Salt and pepper shakers, cabinet handles, etc. Pay attention to what you touch so you can wipe things down. Tip: It’s not necessary to rinse raw meat and chicken — it just spreads bacteria.


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About Ben Chapman

Dr. Ben Chapman is a professor and food safety extension specialist at North Carolina State University. As a teenager, a Saturday afternoon viewing of the classic cable movie, Outbreak, sparked his interest in pathogens and public health. With the goal of less foodborne illness, his group designs, implements, and evaluates food safety strategies, messages, and media from farm-to-fork. Through reality-based research, Chapman investigates behaviors and creates interventions aimed at amateur and professional food handlers, managers, and organizational decision-makers; the gate keepers of safe food. Ben co-hosts a biweekly podcast called Food Safety Talk and tries to further engage folks online through Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and, maybe not surprisingly, Pinterest. Follow on Twitter @benjaminchapman.