Safe & Healthy: Cleaning & Sanitizing in the Kitchen

dishwashingI am often asked about the effectiveness of routine household products as kitchen sanitizers.  I came across a resource from Ohio State University that nicely summarized both cleaning and sanitizing: Cleaning & Sanitizing the Kitchen – Using inexpensive household food-safe products.

Cleaning removes dirt from food preparation surfaces such as countertops, cutting boards, dishes, knives, utensils, pots and pans. Effective cleaning is a 3-step process:

  1. Wash surface with soap and warm water. Be sure to use soap! Warm water is best.
  2. Rinse with clean water.
  3. Air dry or dry with a paper towel. See an earlier blog on using cloth towels effectively.

 Sanitizing is a bit different from cleaning.  Sanitizing occurs after cleaning. Sanitizing kills germs that might be left on a previously cleaned surface. There are 3 steps to effective sanitizing:

  1. Spray cleaned surface with sanitizer of choice.
  2. Allow sanitizer to stand for the suggested amount of time. Be sure to read product label, some sanitizers need to stand for 10-15 minutes, others are effective within seconds.
  3. Air dry or dry with a clean paper towel. (Do not use a cloth towel.)

 The most commonly used sanitizers are chlorine-based or quaternary ammonium compounds. A dilute bleach solution prepared from 1 teaspoon unscented bleach per quart of water is universally effective and fast acting.  This solution is stable in a sealed spray bottle for at least a week. To sanitize surfaces, spray on cleaned surfaces and allow to air dry.  Contact time needed is just 1 minute.

The handout linked above also discusses using vinegar or hydrogen peroxide as sanitizers. These solutions are less effective at destroying germs but can be used. Commercial sprays that you might purchase such as Lysol, 409, or Clorox disinfectant sprays are quaternary ammonium sprays.  If you like the convenience of these pre-prepared sprays, be sure to read the directions on the back of the container.  Some of these solutions should remain on a surface for 10-15 minutes in order to provide sanitizing power.  Other solutions must be rinsed off before the surface comes in contact with food.

As important as the proper use of household chemicals, is the proper labeling of your kitchen cleaning solutions. A news story recently related a tragic event which highlights this point: Twenty-eight children and two adults accidentally drank bleach at a day care center in Jersey City in early September. The children, aged 3 and 4, were evaluated and taken from the day care center to hospital where they were treated and released.

Dr. Steven M. Marcus, the executive director of New Jersey Poison Information and Education System, said such accidents are fairly common. Hotels, restaurants and other food service outlets are required to regularly sanitize certain areas, and often use bleach and water as the solution. Despite warnings by the poison center against it, workers will often put the solution in a container — such as a brand-name water bottle or gallon jug — that can be mistaken for water.

Stay food safe, Barb