Nutrition Column – How Safe is Your Kitchen?

What comes to mind when you think of a clean kitchen? Floors so clean you could eat off them? A toaster so shiny you can see your reflection? While looks are important, a "truly" clean kitchen-one that ensures safe food-relies on more than just looks. Safe food depends on diligent food-handling practices.

Estimates report that more than one in four Americans become infected with foodborne illness each year. Many people believe that most cases of foodborne illness are caused by food prepared outside the home when, in actuality, small outbreaks in home settings are far more common.

Safe food practices in the home are essential. Take a look below at the answers to consumer’s most frequently asked questions about food safety at home. See if you are doing the necessary steps to ensure that your kitchen is truly clean.

How often should the kitchen sink drain and disposal be sanitized?

Food particles get trapped in the drain and disposal and, along with the moisture present, create an ideal environment for bacterial growth. The kitchen sink drain and disposal should be sanitized periodically by pouring a solution of 1 teaspoon chlorine bleach in 1 quart of water down the sink.

What is the best way to clean kitchen counters?

Wiping off the kitchen counter with the same dishcloth that was just used to clean up spilled chicken juices only spreads those juices – and the bacteria they may harbor – to other parts of your kitchen. Kitchen counters should be cleaned using hot, soapy water and a clean sponge or dishcloth. For even greater protection, follow this cleaning by spraying countertops with a commercial kitchen disinfectant or a solution containing 1 teaspoon chlorine bleach in 1 quart of water, followed by a rinse of plain, hot water.

How should cutting boards be selected and cleaned?

Grooves caused by knives on cutting boards can be a breeding ground for bacteria. Be sure to select a cutting board that’s smooth, durable, nonabsorbent and easy to clean. Because plastic is less porous than wood, it is less likely to harbor bacteria and is easier to clean. When washing cutting boards, use hot water, soap and a scrub brush (if necessary) to remove all food particles. After washing your cutting boards, sanitize them in a hot dishwasher or by rinsing with a dilute chlorine bleach solution of 1 teaspoon chlorine bleach per quart of water.

If possible, use one cutting board for fresh produce and a separate one for raw meat, poultry and seafood. Cutting boards that have become excessively worn or that develop hard-to-clean grooves should be replaced.

How should dishcloths and sponges be cleaned and stored?

Damp dishcloths and sponges are the perfect breeding ground for bacteria. Dishcloths and towels should be changed and washed often. Dirty sponges should be thrown out or washed in hot, soapy water, followed by rinsing in a dilute bleach solution then air-drying them.

How long do I need to wash my hands?

Hands should be washed front and back and between your fingers in warm, soapy water for a minimum of 20 seconds before and after every step when preparing food. Also, if you leave the kitchen to do something else such as change a diaper, pet an animal or use the bathroom, wash your hands before returning to the kitchen.