Get Rid of Uninvited Guests in the Kitchen


Millions and even billions of bacteria can be found in the average kitchen. If you don’t keep this area clean, you’re serving up a veritable feast for viruses, bacteria and germs, not to mention exposing your family and friends to food poisoning and other illnesses.

Unfortunately, it is impossible to eliminate every single germ from your kitchen. What you can do—and should do—is keep bacteria under control. The first step is knowing where they may be lurking.

Dish towels, dish rags and sponges are notorious for hosting bacteria. What’s more, when you use these items for multiple purposes, you may be making matters worse through cross-contamination. For example, if you used a sponge to clean a cutting board for meat and then use the same sponge to wipe down a countertop, you’re spreading bacteria. Likewise if you wiped your hands on a dish towel after cracking open an egg and then use that dish towel to dry your favorite coffee mug.

Other breeding grounds for bacteria in the kitchen include cutting boards, the sink, cabinet and drawer pulls, can openers, rubber gloves, and appliance handles. Timers, salt and pepper shakers, bottles of oil, spice jars, and other items you touch during food prep may also be contaminated.

Now that we’ve identified the prime hiding places, let’s discuss how to keep the kitchen clean on a daily basis.

Before beginning any meal prep, wash your hands with warm, soapy water. Spend at least 20 seconds scrubbing your hands, your lower arms and under your fingernails. Then rinse off the soap under warm water.

Next, clean and disinfect kitchen surfaces. To prevent cross-contamination, use disinfectant spray or disposable disinfectant wipes instead of sponges or dish rags, and dry the surfaces with disposable paper towels instead of dish towels. It’s important to keep the kitchen dry as well as clean because bacteria thrive in moist areas.

Clean surfaces after every stage of meal prep. This is especially important when raw meats, poultry, seafood and eggs are part of the recipe, as they carry nasty bacteria such as e. coli and salmonella. Clean up spills immediately. Don’t give bacteria a chance to find a home.

After you’re done cooking, clean food prep items such as meat tenderizers and can openers in hot, soapy water immediately. Clean, disinfect and dry kitchen surfaces once more. Also clean and disinfect other items you may have touched while cooking, such as spice jars and drawer pulls.

At the end of the day, clean and disinfect the sink, including the faucet and the drain, and take out the trash.

Now what about the Big Three—dish towels, dish rags and sponges? If you must use them, wash dish towels and dish rags with soap and hot water between uses. To disinfect sponges, run them through the dishwasher or microwave them while wet for about 2 minutes (but keep an eye on them; if they get too hot, they could catch fire). Replace sponges every two to three weeks.

You should also deep-clean your kitchen several times a year. Clean the insides of your appliances—especially the refrigerator, where meat juices may be lingering, and the dishwasher, which can be susceptible to mold and mildew. Wash down walls that may have been splattered with grease or hit with cookie batter from an electric mixer.

By following these tips, you can keep bacteria in the kitchen at bay—and limit your dinner parties to invited guests.

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