How to Eliminate Bacteria in the Kitchen

Because you can't see, taste, or smell the bacteria that cause foodborne illness, cleanliness is essential.

The first step is to keep your hands and all surfaces and utensils that come into contact with food clean.

Keep hands clean: Nearly half of all cases of foodborne illness could be eliminated by proper hand washing. Remember to wash your hands:

  • Before handling food or food utensils or eating.
  • After handling food, especially raw meat, poultry, fish, shellfish, or eggs.
  • Between tasks -- for example, after cutting up raw chicken and before dicing the vegetables.
  • After using the bathroom, changing diapers, playing with pets, or touching any unclean item, such as garbage, dirty dishes, cigarettes, telephones, hair, or dirty laundry.

When washing your hands, keep in mind that a quick rinse under the faucet won't do the trick. Wash your hands in hot, soapy water for at least 20 seconds (some people count this by singing "Happy Birthday" twice). Scrub thoroughly -- front and back -- all the way up to the wrists, over and under the fingernails, and in between fingers. Rinse your hands and use paper towels or a clean cloth to dry. If you have an open wound or cut, prevent contamination by wearing rubber gloves while handling food.

Clean fruits and vegetables: Wash raw fruit and vegetables under running water before eating or preparing them. If needed, remove surface dirt with a vegetable brush, and cut away damaged or bruised areas of produce, as they may contain bacteria.

Keep dish cloths, towels, and sponges clean: One way to eliminate the bacteria that thrive in sponges and dishcloths is to soak them in a diluted bleach solution (3/4 cup bleach per 1 gallon water) three times a week. Sponges should be allowed to air-dry. Wash dish towels often using the hot cycle on your washing machine. Use paper towels to clean up spills, especially juices from raw meat, poultry, fish, and shellfish. Then immediately dispose of the paper towels.

Keep surfaces and utensils clean: Immediately after preparing raw meat, poultry, fish, shellfish, eggs, and unwashed produce, clean any utensils and surfaces that you used with hot, soapy water. Remember to do this between each separate kitchen task too.

Care for your cutting boards: After each use, cutting boards should be thoroughly washed with hot, soapy water, then rinsed and allowed to air-dry or patted dry with paper towels. Or place them in the dishwasher, provided they're dishwasher-safe. As an added measure of safety, use a sanitizing solution on cutting boards after washing them. Using a solution of 1 teaspoon of liquid chlorine bleach per quart of water, flood the surface and allow the board to stand several minutes. Rinse and air-dry or pat dry with paper towels.

Replace cutting boards whenever they have become worn or develop hard-to-clean grooves.

Wash food thermometer probes after each use with hot, soapy water and rinse before reinserting the probe into food.

In your refrigerator, wipe up spills immediately. Clean refrigerator surfaces with hot, soapy water and rinse. Once a week, throw out perishable foods that should no longer be eaten.

Keep pets off counters and away from food.

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