Safe Food Prep & Hygiene In The Kitchen | A 2020 Corona Need

Wondering what hygiene in the kitchen is necessary at home, especially now with the current viral transmission a new concern? What if you need to self-isolate or be in quarantine but share the house with others? How can you ensure safety? Let’s look at this…

hygiene in the kitchen for safe food prep
Regularly washing your hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds is advised

This is an evolving issue and no one has all the answers. One thing is certain – maintain a high level of hygiene and social distancing to avoid others getting ill.

Cleaning, especially in the kitchen, can help prevent the spread of disease.

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.

You can’t see, smell, or taste harmful bacteria [or viruses] that may cause illness

US Food Safety and Inspection Service

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Cleaning vs disinfecting

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.

Contact with infected surfaces is a key way this novel virus of 2020 gets passed around.

How long will this new virus live on surfaces?

Nothing’s conclusive right now. It could be hours to days depending on the surroundings and the surface, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) at the time of writing this.

Cooking food at home

Cooking food on high heat is known to kill viruses. Eating food itself is not a concern in terms of this viral transmission, we are told.

There is no evidence to suggest that COVID-19 is passed on through food. The main risk of transmission is from close contact with infected people.

Food Safety of Ireland

But, as you’ll find out below, safe food prep is important to limit the spread of infection.

Apart from the main route of person to person transmission, the virus likely spreads through contact with infected surfaces: “It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes”, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises.

So, touching contaminated food packing, containers and utensils would be a concern.

And…there’s the surface of food staples, namely, fruit and vegetable. More on this below.

Safe food prep

Ideally, if you share your home with others, leave the meal preparation to someone else if you are unwell. This would be the smartest thing to do to avoid disease transmission and in line with CDC advice: “an ill person should stay in a specific room and away from other people in their home”…

how to avoid spread of germs
Advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Recommended precautions for household members – full details CDC advice.

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).

Standard color-coding of kitchen utensils

Red stands for raw meat, blue for raw fish, yellow for cooked meat, green for salad and fruits, brown for vegetables, and white for dairy and bread.

Standard color coding
Raw Meat
Raw Fish
Cooked Meat
Salad & Fruits
Vegetables
Dairy & Bread

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.

Hygiene in kitchen includes washing vegetables and fruit, safe food prep
Hygiene in kitchen best practice includes washing / preparing vegetables and fruit

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:

hygiene in the kitchen, avoid getting sick, stay safe guide for healthy cooking
  1. Before starting, wash your hands for 20-secs with warm soapy water
  2. Then, check and remove any damage or bruising of the produce
  3. Before peeling, rinse produce to avoid any transfer and spread of dirt and bacteria to the peeler or knife and further onto the produce
  4. Next, gently rub the produce under running water
  5. With cucumbers, potatoes, apples, and other firm types that you don’t intend to peel, use a clean vegetable brush and scrub their skin
  6. Dry the fruit or vegetable with a clean cloth or paper towel
  7. 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…

Dr John Campbell shows you how to wash your hands to prevent transfer of viruses

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
  • Benches
  • Knife and utensil handles
  • Dishwasher
  • Refrigerator
  • Microwave
  • Toaster
  • Kettle

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

Dishwashing liquid is the best product for hygienically cleaning cookware of all types, including nonstick, ceramic, cast-iron, and stainless steel. Why this works is given below.

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

  • Vinegar
  • Salt
  • Lemon
  • Bicarbonate soda
  • Bleach
  • Methylated spirits (denatured alcohol)
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Peroxide

Sunlight is also a natural sanitizer. It’s the UV in sunlight that inactivates pathogens, research published in Scientific Reports, and others have shown. Though, its actual effect on this new virus has not been confirmed.

Take note that some, but not all of those listed above, are officially confirmed for use against this new virus of the 2020 pandemic.

Specifically for the 2020 pandemic

In terms of cleaning and disinfecting, the official advice from CDC is to use “EPA-registered disinfectants that are appropriate for the surface, following label instructions”.

Among these are the following basic ones…

Bleach

Bleach (sodium hypochlorite) is a household cleaning product that the CDC lists for disinfecting surfaces against this new virus. They 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

Alcohol breaks the membrane of the virus but needs to be at least 70% strength for use on surfaces, according to the CDC. (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

Hydrogen peroxide is a product you may have in the home. It is one of the disinfectants listed by EPA for use against this new virus, Corona (aka SARS-CoV-2).

How soap and detergents work to kill Corona

The virus structure is delicate and soap and detergents can break it and so ‘disarm’ it.

Virologist Dr. John Williams, in a recent CNN Health article (LaMotte, S. March 24, 2020), explains 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.

How-tos…

How to clean kitchen surfaces and essentials…

Avoid recontaminating surfaces

Use alcoholic-based wipes or a cloth or paper towel with a cleaning/disinfecting product. Start at the clean end of the surface and work to the dirty end in an ‘S’ shape action from side to side and avoid going over the same area to avoid recontaminating the surface. Source: GAMA Healthcare

Dishes and tableware

You can hand wash dishes, cooking utensils, cookware, and tableware etc. in detergent and hot water; rinse and leave to dry. Or, you can run them through the dishwasher (which is better as it uses hotter water than what you’d use in hand washing).

Cloths and linen

If you reuse cleaning cloths, you can launder them in the washing machine with normal washing liquid or powder on the warmest setting. The same applies for other cloths and linen used in the kitchen/dining area.

Final thoughts

Hygiene in the kitchen and safe food preparation is an important part of stopping the spread of disease. It’s especially important during this 2020 pandemic.

I’ve researched and compiled the above with the aim of helping you in some way in these trying times.

I find having practical solutions to follow helps with grounding, settling the angst when surrounded by uncertainty, disruption, and significant change. Knowing how to put one step in front of the other helps us get through and overcome challenges that might seem insurmountable at the time.

Sources on hygiene in the kitchen and C-19

Further advice on cleaning and disinfecting is available from…

CDC: Clean & Disinfect | FSIS: Basics for Handling Food Safely | Food Safety of Ireland | Scientific Reports: UV Light Control of Microbial Diseases |NIH

Crystal Hodge

Hi, This is Crystal Hodge, a believer in healthy eating starting with the cooking. I'm an outdoor-loving mom and I love helping people make informed choices about healthy cookware. I'm a wholesome living wannabe. All I wanna do is: Live. Love. Cook. Healthily!

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