A Guide to Kitchen Disinfection and Sanitation

Hi, Home-Ec 101,

I just read your article on Hydrogen Peroxide. I just love your website!

I was wondering what you use to disinfect/sanitize your kitchen counters. I am trying to find something natural and have a hard time finding information on what actually kills bacteria, germs, etc.

I read one way to kill bacteria/germs is to first spray with vinegar and wipe and then spray with hydrogen peroxide and wipe. But no info on how long you leave it on before you wipe.

Do you know? Do you know if this kills bad stuff?

Thanks for your help; I really appreciate it!

Signed,
Squeaky Clean in Squamish

Thank you for your kind words. When it comes to food safety, I think it’s important to understand that while I understand not wanting to expose ourselves to unnecessary, harmful chemicals. I also know that food poisoning can be a nightmare, especially in infants or those with compromised immune systems.

Important note:

If you take an acid inhibitor, you have a compromised immune system.

Your stomach’s pH level is one of the body’s first lines of defense against food-borne pathogens. All of those guidelines about undercooked shellfish, meat, and eggs are referring to you.

While your body’s defenses are not as compromised as someone undergoing chemotherapy or taking anti-rejection medications, it does matter.

What microorganisms are you most likely going to run into in a kitchen?*

Keep in mind, this is just a brief overview and should not be used to cram for your microbiology exam.

First, we have our good friend E.coli. This guy is actually a diverse range of bacteria. Like people, some are helpful and friendly, and then there are a few who are not. Infectious strains of E. coli can be transferred on produce, by sick people, and on raw meat. An E. coli infection is generally mild—but don’t tell someone currently suffering that diarrhea and cramps are “mild”—an adult will usually recover in about a week. However, children and the elderly take a little longer and are more likely to develop complications that affect the kidneys.

Next up, we have Sal. . . you know, salmonella? This bacteria is associated strongly with chickens’ intestinal tract, and contamination can occur from the meat or eggs. These nasty bacteria also produce diarrhea and cramps. Salmonellosis is a bit more severe, and it can take a bit longer for everything to return to normal and reactive arthritis is a potential complication. Again, young children and the elderly are more at risk with this bacteria. A word of warning, reptiles are also known carriers of salmonella, and generally, young children and infants should be kept away from them.

These are the two most widely recognized kitchen pathogens, but there are a few more out there.

Campylobacter is another diarrhea-causing bacteria. This one is probably the most common, but most people don’t go to the doctor over it, so it is believed to be widely unreported. While it doesn’t take many of these little guys to make a person sick, these bacteria are also extremely fragile, and the most basic hygiene practices will generally prevent an issue.

Listeria is more complicated. Only about 1600 people a year become infected with listeria annually. But this bacteria is especially problematic for pregnant women. The infection can cause miscarriage and is the 3rd leading cause of death by food poisoning.  As listeria is most commonly associated with not-cooked foods, the CDC and public health services work to quickly identify and eliminate the source of outbreaks. It is a special snowflake, and there is not much you, as an average consumer, can do to avoid listeria other than not eat foods most commonly linked to the bacteria. That said, even some produce has been listed as the source of an outbreak. Follow guidelines and hope for the best. Sometimes as people, we’re just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Not too long ago, Blue Bell Ice Cream was the source of an outbreak.

To keep your kitchen safe and clean, there are a few basic guidelines to follow:

WASH YOUR HANDS

This one doesn’t even get a number.

  • Wash your hands before you cook.
  • After touching raw meat or eggs.
  • Before you handle cooked foods. 
  • And again, just one more time to be sure.

Plain old soap and warm water will do. Anti-bacterial soaps may do more harm than good in the long run.

The FDA has a campaign called Fight Bac that breaks food safety down simply.

1. Keep refrigerated foods refrigerated.

Cold temperatures do not kill the bacteria, but they do reduce the rate at which they reproduce. A person is less likely to get sick if they only come in contact with a couple of bacteria than if the bacteria have the chance to grow unhindered.

2. Wash your produce.

Bacteria are not supervillains. If bacteria is on produce, it can generally be rinsed off.

3. Prevent cross-contamination.

When chicken or other raw meats are in your refrigerator, they should be stored on the lowest possible shelf to prevent any liquid from dripping onto other food products.

Use separate cutting boards. Different colors are super useful to prevent accidental contamination.

Wash cutting boards thoroughly with warm, soapy water, rinse, and sanitize. This three-step process ensures that bacteria are removed from the surface, and any hiding in tiny crevices are killed, too.

4. Avoid the bacterial danger zone.**

This is especially important when serving food. If food should be refrigerated, it should not be at room temperature for more than two hours. If food is served hot, it should not be below 130°F for more than two hours.

The range in-between 40°F and 130°F is known as the danger zone.

5. Reheat leftovers thoroughly.

Get those leftovers above the bacterial danger zone to kill anything that may have set up camp in your food.

Cleaning

Finally, to get to the specifics of your question.

When sanitizing your cutting boards and counters, you have three solid options to prevent contamination.

1. Distilled 5% vinegar

Undiluted – heated to 130°F.

Spray on the surface and allow to sit for one minute before wiping.

Room temperature distilled vinegar needs to sit for 10 minutes and is not effective against Listeria or E. coli.

2. Dilute Bleach – (read about diluting chlorine bleach properly)

The solution should be sprayed on the surface and allowed to sit for one minute before wiping.

3. Food Grade 3% Hydrogen Peroxide

Heated to 130°F – sprayed on the surface and allowed to sit for one minute

Room temperature hydrogen peroxide is effective against salmonella after ten minutes but not E. coli or listeria.

Please note that food-grade hydrogen peroxide is not the peroxide you find in the pharmacy. Be careful with undiluted food-grade hydrogen peroxide and follow all instructions to the letter.

My personal choice is to use diluted chlorine bleach. I’m comfortable with the process after spending years in commercial kitchens.

*I’m not covering parasites today. We’ll save that fun for another day.
**Yes, I have Top Gun flashbacks every time I write the phrase “Danger Zone.”

Send your questions to helpme@home-ec101.com

References:
http://www.cdc.gov/
http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/e-coli/basics/risk-factors/con-20032105
https://food.unl.edu/safety/salmonella
http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/lab-bio/res/psds-ftss/escherichia-coli-pa-eng.php
http://www.fda.gov/Food/FoodborneIllnessContaminants/BuyStoreServeSafeFood/ucm341283.htm

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3 thoughts on “A Guide to Kitchen Disinfection and Sanitation”

  1. I know this post is already a couple of years old, but maybe someone is still looking for information.

    In the biology labs I worked in at my university THE desinfectant to use for just about everything is plain old alcohol. 70% ethanol is the concentration you’re looking for, even though you can easily dilute it from the 99.something% you can buy at the store (it’s not suitable for consumption since they put nasty tasting stuff in there to prevent you from drinking it!)

    I’m not entirely sure if it is effective against all of the bacteria listed in the post, but E. coli is something you frequently work with in the lab since it is easy to manipulate and also everything you put into the clean bench thing for cell culture stuff (which you REALLY don’t want to contaminate) is wiped with 70% ethanol and hence considered sterile, so it should take care of just about everything.

    I figuren, whats good enough for the lab is more than good enough for my kitchen.

    Reply
    • Great question, unless your manufacturer has specifically exempted its use, do not use vinegar (or other acidic cleaners) on marble or granite.

      Reply

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