Cooking Tips

6 Tips for Keeping a Clean and Food-Safe Kitchen

Love to cook? Keeping a clean kitchen will keep it that way.

Published Apr. 10, 2019.

Sarah Wilson

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Good kitchen sanitation practices, such as washing your hands frequently and keeping raw foods and cooked foods separate, will dramatically reduce the risk of food-borne illnesses. But it doesn’t stop there. Consider your cutting board and all the foods—both raw and cooked—that it comes into contact with. And how about that sponge in your sink—oh, and the sink!

The good news is that keeping a clean kitchen doesn’t have to be complicated. While special cleaning products make some jobs easier, nothing beats soap, hot water, and bleach to get the job done. In order to ensure your kitchen is clean and sanitized, here are a few tips that will keep your kitchen in order so you can focus on cooking.

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Tip 1: Hands, Soap, and Water

No list of kitchen sanitation practices is complete without this tip. That’s because washing your hands is one of the best ways to stop the spread of food-borne pathogens. Wash before and during cooking, especially after touching raw meat and poultry. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends at least 20 seconds in hot, soapy water. How long is that? Try singing “Happy Birthday.”

Tip 2: Sanitize Your Work Space

Studies have found that the kitchen sink contains even more bacteria than the garbage bin (the drain alone typically harbors 18,000 bacteria per square inch!). The faucet handle, which can reintroduce bacteria to your hands after you’ve washed them, is a close second. Depending on factors such as moisture, temperatures, and the particular strain of bacteria, microbes can live as long as 60 hours in your kitchen.

We’ve found that hot soapy water is amazingly effective at eliminating bacteria. For added insurance, clean these areas frequently with a solution of 1 tablespoon bleach per quart of water (the bleach will also kill off some of those microbes in the drain).

Tip 3: Keep Sponges Clean

Whenever possible, use a paper towel or a clean dishcloth instead of a sponge to wipe up. But if you do use a sponge, disinfect it. Simply rinsing a sponge in hot water and wringing it out does not sufficiently clean it.

We consulted experts at the Food Safety and Inspection Service, the United States Department of Agriculture’s public health regulatory agency, and NSF International, a public health and safety organization that develops standards and certifications, and they proposed three more effective methods:

Method 1: Run your sponge through your dishwasher on a setting that reaches at least 155 degrees and has a heated dry cycle (sometimes called sani-rinse, sani-wash, or sanitation cycle), preferably every time you run your dishwasher.

Method 2: Dampen your sponge and microwave it for at least 2 minutes. (Note that if you have a high-powered microwave, there’s a chance your sponge could burn if you use this method.)

Method 3: Submerge your sponge in a solution of ¾ cup bleach to 1 gallon water for at least five minutes, then remove and rinse.

In all three methods, the sponge should be allowed to dry completely before it’s used again, ideally in a dishrack or other holder that allows air to circulate around all the surfaces of the sponge.

Tip 4: Season Safely

Though most bacteria can’t live for more than a few minutes in direct contact with salt, it can live on the edges of a box or shaker. To avoid contamination, grind pepper into a clean small bowl and then mix it with salt. You can reach into the bowl for seasoning without washing your hands every time. At the end of meal prep, discard any leftover seasoning and wash the bowl.

Tip 5: Clean Cutting Boards

Keeping cutting boards clean is a major part of preventing cross contamination and killing harmful bacteria. We’ve conducted a number of tests to see if any particular cutting board material is better than another in resisting bacteria growth. While bamboo boards do have natural antimicrobial properties that help kill off bacteria (providing a head start on cleaning), all of the materials we tested came perfectly clean when scrubbed thoroughly with hot, soapy water. If your board is dishwasher safe, you can put it through the dishwasher, but keep in mind that wooden boards should never go through the dishwasher.

Tip 6: Put Up Barriers

Items that come in contact with both raw and cooked food, like scales and platters, should be covered with aluminum foil or plastic wrap to create a protective barrier. Once the item has been used, the protective layer should be discarded—taking any bacteria with it. Similarly, wrapping your cutting board with plastic wrap before pounding meat and poultry on it will limit the spread of bacteria.

For more cleaning practices and food safety tips, check out our Cooking School class Food Safety 101.

What’s your go-to method for a clean and sanitized kitchen? Let us know in the comments.

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