Food preparation and hygiene in the kitchen is a start to ensuring healthy nourishing meals. Cleaning, especially in the kitchen, can help prevent the spread of ill health.
You can’t see, smell, or taste harmful bacteria [or viruses] that may cause illnessUS Food Safety and Inspection Service
Cleaning vs disinfecting
In the kitchen, you can make sure surfaces are wiped and disinfected and meals are prepared with hygiene and the health of others in mind.
Let’s clarify these terms, cleaning and disinfecting for the purposes of this article because they get used interchangeably. They are sort of similar but technically different.
Cleaning means removing grime, spills, and dirt from surfaces. It can mean removing germs. It’s a physical action. Disinfecting in comparison means using chemicals to kill the germs.
Both work to reduce the spread of pathogens because cleaning removes the junk that inhibits the effect of disinfection and allows germs to survive. And then, in the kitchen, you often clean with sprays and wipes that disinfect.
Ideally, if you share your home with others, leave the meal preparation to someone else if you are unwell.
Cooking meals and freezing them ahead would be helpful. Some people use slow cookers with liners so they can easily freeze the meals or leftovers for meals to consume later.
If you live on your own, how you prepare your meals won’t necessarily affect others, but it’s a good idea to maintain hygiene in the kitchen and healthy eating. You want to help your body stave off any secondary infections at a time when your immune system is working overtime.
You could look at getting takeout or meal delivery at this time to help.
Color coding for safe food prep
Color-coded cutting boards, knives, and other utensils for the kitchen are available. They serve to prevent cross-contamination when you are preparing food.
You use one color for a specific food item following a standard that exists for each color (or you can assign your own).
Important for fruit and vegetables
You should always wash your fruit and vegetables before you store them or handle them to prep or eat. This is a good hygienic habit to form.
Why do I need to wash my fruit and vegetables? How are fruit and vegetables contaminated? The answer is the same as for any surface. Surfaces become contaminated from tiny droplets spread from an infectious person who coughs or sneezes near the surface or who touches the surface with contaminated hands.
People may not know they are infectious. They could be asymptomatic for a period, according to advice at the time of writing this. So, caution is the best practice.
Fruit and vegetable safe food prep
In prepping fruit and vegetables, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advises us to follow these 7 steps:
- Before starting, wash your hands for 20-secs with warm soapy water
- Then, check and remove any damage or bruising of the produce
- Before peeling, rinse produce to avoid any transfer and spread of dirt and bacteria to the peeler or knife and further onto the produce
- Next, gently rub the produce under running water
- With cucumbers, potatoes, apples, and other firm types that you don’t intend to peel, use a clean vegetable brush and scrub their skin
- Dry the fruit or vegetable with a clean cloth or paper towel
- If preparing lettuce, cabbage, or similar leafy greens, remove and discard the outermost leaves before washing and prepping
Washing and drying hands
Before you start preparing meals, it’s best to always wash your hands. This is a basic requirement of safe food prepping and hygiene in the kitchen. You can use soap or liquid soap, but the method is important…
The US Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) advises using “warm water and soap for 20 seconds before and after handling food”.
If you don’t have water to wash with, use alcohol-based wipes or hand cleanser.
If you feel the urge to cough or sneeze, use tissues to cover your face and dispose of them straight into a covered lined garbage container.
Then thoroughly wash and dry your hands again.
Always wash your hands before handling raw, cooked or ready-to-eat food.
A good tip is to adopt the habit of always washing your hands after handling food, handling waste, cleaning up, using the bathroom, eating, drinking or smoking, or handling money.
Hand sanitization station to up the hygiene in the kitchen
You could set up a hand sanitization station in the kitchen. Hocking Country Health Department has this pdf instruction that you can adapt for your use in the home. Why not set up an area with sanitizer and paper towels in place of the water and soap. For a hand sanitizer, you need at least 60% alcohol.
Here’s how to make up your own hand sanitizer…
In summary: Regular washing of your hands is recommended in maintaining hygiene and avoiding the spread of pathogens.
Equipment hygiene in the kitchen
We know that it’s important to keep our kitchen equipment clean to limit the spread of cockroaches and other disease-carrying vectors. It’s also important to do this to limit the spread of microbial germs. Particularly, it’s important to clean surfaces that you or others in your home come in contact with.
What cooking equipment and spaces to clean
The kitchen is a space where everyone in the household accesses at some point in time during each day and sometimes it’s where everyone gathers. It has many surfaces that people come in contact with.
Surfaces and handles of essential tools, tableware, cookware, and kitchen appliances and furniture can be prime areas of this contact transmission. Other areas in kitchens include tables, kitchen cupboards, doorknobs, light switches, handles, faucets, and sinks.
In terms of handles and surfaces of kitchen equipment to clean/disinfect, here is a list of examples:
- Cutting boards
- Knife and utensil handles
These are likely to get daily use and so need a more frequent hygienic wipe.
Additional ones, such as rice cookers, crockpots, and other occasionally used portable appliances, will need cleaning after use, and you’ll want to include a hygienic wipe over of the exterior as well.
Best cleaning products or disinfectants
Then there are the cleaning and disinfectant products along with alcoholic-based handwash, gels, or wipes that I list in my article on pantry and essential supplies when preparing for an emergency.
But, what if you find yourself short on commercial products? The shelves are empty at the store, for example. Try checking your pantry. Here are some examples of simple DIY cleaning agents…
- Bicarbonate soda
- Methylated spirits (denatured alcohol)
- Rubbing alcohol
Sunlight is also a natural sanitizer. It’s the UV in sunlight that inactivates pathogens, research published in Scientific Reports, and others have shown.
Bleach (sodium hypochlorite) is a household cleaning product for disinfecting surfaces. Authorities recommend a bleach solution of 4 teaspoons bleach per quart of water.
A few things about using bleach…wear gloves, never mix it with anything except water, and don’t store the mixture for longer than a day as it loses its effect.
Alcohol breaks the membrane of the virus but needs to be at least 70% strength for use on surfaces. (Higher than your average whiskey or other drinking alcohol).
You may have this at home as isopropyl or rubbing alcohol. Methylated spirits (denatured alcohol) is another strong alcohol-based cleaner and disinfectant but has a strong odor.
Hydrogen peroxide is a product you may have in the home.
How soap and detergents work to kill viruses
Virologist Dr. John Williams, in a recent CNN Health article (LaMotte, S. March 24, 2020), explained how the outer layer of the virus is made up of lipids (aka fats) and since soaps and detergents dissolve fats (aka grease) they effectively dissolve this outer coating of the virus, deactivating it.
Cleaning kitchen floors
Kitchens typically have sealed hard floors and cleaning your kitchen floor is an essential part of hygiene in the kitchen and the home.
You can use a mop with the agents mentioned above to clean the kitchen floor.
A device such as a steam mop will sanitize your floors without the need for harsh chemicals. These devices generate steam, which forms when the water reaches 212 ºF (100 ºC), the boiling point of water. This is known as a way to kill viruses and bacteria.
Hygiene in the kitchen and safe food preparation is important to keep your family healthy.
Sources on hygiene in the kitchen
Further advice on cleaning and disinfecting is available from…