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When spring cleaning, don't forget the kitchen

5/11/2020 by Rose Prissel, MSN, RDN, LD

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If you're shaking off winter doldrums with a burst of spring cleaning, don't forget the kitchen. Spring's a great time to target harmful bacteria that can lurk on kitchen surfaces and in your refrigerator. A clean kitchen helps protect you and your family from foodborne illness, but keeping food safe isn't just for spring — it should be a year-round practice. Remember, everything that touches food should be clean. 

Here are some cleaning tips for making your kitchen and meals safer: 

  • Counters. They may look clean, but bacteria can hide anywhere. So clean surfaces thoroughly with hot water and soap. Then disinfect/sanitize with a strong chlorine bleach solution, if appropriate for the surface, or a disinfectant kitchen cleaner. 
    • The CDC recommends using a strong bleach solution of four teaspoons of bleach per quart of water or five tablespoons (1/3 cup) per gallon. 
    • Remember, never mix bleach with ammonia or other cleaners. Also, more bleach is not better. Let the solution stand on the surface for several minutes, then rinse with cold water and air dry or pat dry with fresh paper towels. Bleach solutions can lose their effectiveness over time, so discard any unused solution after one week. 
  • Kitchen towels and sponges. These provide a moist environment for bacteria to grow. Consider using paper towels instead, and toss them when you're done. If you use cloth towels, wash them often in the hot cycle of your washing machine, If you use kitchen sponges, replace them frequently. 
  • Kitchen sink and drain. Food particles get trapped in the drain and disposal, creating a perfect place for bacteria to thrive. Clean your kitchen sink, drain and disposal once a week with warm water and soap. Disinfect your drain and disposal by pouring in that bleach solution you made for the counters. 
  • Microwaves. These workhorses of the kitchen often get overlooked in day-to-day cleaning. But you can give it a good cleaning with just a few steps:
    • Heat a microwave-safe bowl filled with water on high for approximately four minutes. 
    • Carefully remove the bowl; use hot water and dish soap to wipe down the inside. Dry with a fresh paper towel. 
  • Cutting boards. Wash them in hot, soapy water after each use; then rinse and air or pat dry with clean paper towels. 
    • To sanitize your cutting boards, use a solution of one tablespoon unscented, liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of water. Flood the surface with the bleach solution and allow it to stand for several minutes; then rinse and air or pat dry with clean paper towels. 
    • Non-porous acrylic, plastic, glass and solid wood boards can be washed in a dishwasher, although laminated boards may crack or split. Even plastic boards wear out over time. Once cutting boards become very worn or develop hard-to-clean grooves, replace them. 
  • Refrigerator. For general food safety, check that the temperature in your fridge is set below 40°F. Clean it weekly to get rid of spills, bacteria, mold and mildew that could contaminate foods. 
    • Manufacturers recommend against using chlorine bleach, solvent cleaning solutions or abrasives because they can damage seals, gaskets and linings. 
    • Clean inside surfaces with hot water and soap. Rinse with a damp cloth; dry with a clean cloth. 

A clean kitchen is just one part of food safety and reducing food waste. How you handle and monitor food also plays a big role. 

  • Wash your hands. It's your first line of protection. 
    • To do the job properly, wet hands with warm, running water. Apply soap and rub your hands together vigorously to make lather and scrub all surfaces. Continue for 20 seconds (sing "Happy Birthday" two times), then dry thoroughly with a clean towel. 
    • In the kitchen, wash your hands before and after handling food, such as uncooked eggs or raw meat, poultry or fish and their juices. If something takes you away from the kitchen, wash your hands again before returning to food prep. 
  • Wash fruits and veggies — but not meat, poultry or eggs!
    • As you cut or peel fruits and veggies, any bacteria on the outside can spread to the inside. This includes onions, bananas, oranges, pineapple and more. 
    • Washing raw meat and poultry can actually spread any bacteria, because juices may splash onto and contaminate your sink and countertops. Commercial eggs are washed before they're sold, so no need to wash them at home. 
  • Toss or keep? To minimize food waste:
    • Check your fridge regularly to be sure you use foods before they spoil. 
    • Once a week, make it a habit to throw out or compost foods that shouldn't be eaten. 
    • There's an app for that! Questions about shelf-life of food and kitchen safety? Want to get alerts about food safety recalls? You can download a free app from the USDA and FDA: The FoodKeeper

Want to learn more? Here are some good resources: 

Rose Prissel, MS, RDN, LD, is a dietitian at Mayo Clinic working in pediatric and adult nutrition, with a focus on preventive care, sports nutrition and weight management.