In the Kitchen: Prevent the Spread of Infection
Bacteria can spread anywhere in the kitchen. So, it's important to wash your hands
and kitchen surfaces before and after preparing food. Bacteria can spread from one
surface to another without you knowing it. If the bacteria get into food, they can
cause foodborne illnesses.
Sources of contamination
Most viruses and bacteria that cause colds, flu, and foodborne illnesses are spread
by hand-to-hand or hand-to-food contact. People with hepatitis A, Norwalk-like viruses
(noroviruses), or the bacteria staphylococcus and streptococcus can pass these illnesses
on to others by handling food. Also, a person who is ill from a foodborne illness,
like hepatitis A, can pass that illness on to others by handling food.
Raw meats, poultry, and fish carry a large variety of harmful bacteria. One of the
most serious is Escherichia coli 0157:H7. This is the organism found mostly in undercooked
hamburger. It is one of the most common causes of foodborne illness, according to
the CDC. This bacterium causes hemolytic uremic syndrome, an often-deadly disease
that strikes mostly children. Older adults are also at high risk.
Chicken, turkey, and fowl are associated with shigella, salmonella, and campylobacter.
These are bacteria that cause diarrhea, cramping, and fever. Most meat can be contaminated
with toxoplasmosis. This is a parasitic disease dangerous to both pregnant women and
Seafood, particularly oysters, clams, and other shellfish, can be contaminated with
the vibrio species of bacteria that causes diarrhea, or with hepatitis A virus.
Unpasteurized cheese and some meat can be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes,
a strain of bacteria that can cause disease in people and miscarriage or damage to
the fetus in pregnant women. Listeria is often found in soft cheeses, such as brie,
and more often in imported cheeses than in domestic cheeses. Listeria is one of the
few bacteria that grow well in the 40°F (4°C) temperature of the refrigerator.
Contaminated vegetables and fruits can carry a variety of organisms and parasites,
depending on where they were grown and how they were processed, the CDC says.
Contaminated kitchen gadgets
Items in the kitchen become contaminated by contact with contaminated people, foods,
pets, or other environmental sources.
The first and foremost suspect "gadget" in the kitchen is the human hand. Too often,
people don't wash their hands before preparing food. More often, people don't wash
their hands between handling possibly contaminated foods like meat and other foods
that are less likely to be contaminated like vegetables. This "cross-contamination"
is a leading cause of foodborne disease, the CDC says.
Kitchen items that often become contaminated include:
Countertops. Most people use their countertops not only for food preparation,
but also for possibly contaminated items like grocery bags, mail, or household
Dishrags, towels, sponges, and scrubbers
Sink drains and P-trap. This is the J-shaped pipe under the sink that retains
a quantity of water to block sewer gas from seeping back up through the sink
Complex appliances like food processors, blenders, and eggbeaters
Cleaning vs. disinfecting
Many people believe that if it appears clean, it's safe. A kitchen can look perfectly
clean, yet be contaminated with a lot of organisms that cause diseases. Cleaning and
disinfecting are 2 different processes. Cleaning removes grease, food residues, and
dirt, as well as a large number of bacteria. But cleaning may also spread other bacteria
around. Disinfecting kills organisms (bacteria, virus, and parasites).
Disinfectants and sanitizers are widely available as liquids, sprays, or wipes. Any
of these works well, killing almost all the bacteria and viruses. You can also make
your own inexpensive disinfectant by adding 1tablespoon liquid chlorine bleach to 1
gallon of water. Store the solution in a spray bottle and make a new solution every 2
to 3 days.
You should clean thoroughly before you disinfect. Buildup of food or grease will not
allow the disinfectant to penetrate.
How you dry your dishes and utensils also plays an important role in kitchen sanitation.
From least effective to most effective, drying processes can be ranked:
Drying with a dishtowel (least effective)
Drying with a paper towel
Drying in the dishwasher
Sterilizing cycle in dishwasher (if so equipped)
Cleaning hands and disinfecting the gadgets
You should wash your hands before eating, before preparing food, and after cleaning
up the food preparation area, the CDC says. Outside the kitchen, you should wash your
hands after using the bathroom, after handling pets or cleaning up after them, after
caring for another sick person, or any time that you think your hands might be contaminated.
Use soap and water, making sure to clean the palms, the top surfaces, between the
fingers, and up the wrists. Short fingernails help maintain cleanliness.
According to the CDC, plain soap works the best. Even though studies have shown that
antibacterial soaps and cleaners have not been definitively linked to antibiotic-resistant
infections, they do not kill germs remarkably better than regular soap. However, antibacterial
hand sanitizers can come in handy when there is no water for washing. The CDC makes
the following suggestions for good hand washing technique:
Use soap and warm running water.
Lather your hands well.
Wash all surfaces, including between your fingers, the backs of your hands,
wrists, and under your fingernails.
Wash thoroughly for 20 seconds. (Ask your children to say their ABCs while
they wash—that way they'll spend enough time washing.)
Make this a habit, especially before meals and after using the bathroom,
whether you're sick or not.
If soap and water are not available, an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains
at least 60% alcohol can be used to clean your hands. When using these products:
The following are ways to prevent infections from kitchen gadgets:
Can openers. Whether hand-held or electric, clean after each use. After cleaning, wipe with
your bleach solution (or commercial disinfectant) and allow to air dry.
Cutting boards. If practical, keep 2 cutting boards, 1 for meat and 1 for fruits and vegetables.
Clean after each use. The meat cutting board should be sprayed or wiped with
your bleach solution and allowed to air dry. Rinse the board in clear water before
the next use to help remove residual bleach taste from the board.
Countertops. Clean them thoroughly, then spray or wipe with bleach solution. Allow to air
dry. If there is a residual "frost" from the bleach, it may be wiped off with
a clean cloth.
Dishrags, towels, sponges, and scrubbers. These tend to be highly contaminated. You shouldn't use a sponge in the kitchen.
Use a clean dishcloth daily. After use, rinse thoroughly and air dry. If you
use the dishcloth for wiping the floor or wiping up after pets or any general
cleaning, send it to the laundry and get a clean one. Scrubbers (metal or plastic)
should be washed in the dishwasher each time you run it. If you do not have a
dishwasher, rinse them thoroughly to remove any visible food residue and soak
them in your bleach solution for 10 minutes.
Garbage disposals. The film that builds up on the inside of the disposal is teeming with bacteria.
Use a long-handled angled brush and a chlorinated cleansing powder to scrub the
inside walls of the disposal and the underside of the rubber splash guard. Allow
the cleanser to remain in place (don't rinse) until the next time the disposal
is used. This gives the chlorinated disinfectant time to kill the bacteria. This
should be done at least once a month. CAUTION: Make sure the disposal is off
and cannot be turned on during this procedure.
Sink drains and P-trap. Before going to bed, pour 1 cup of hot water into the drain. Wait a minute for
the drain to soak up heat from the water then pour in 1 cup of chlorine bleach
(undiluted). Allow to stand overnight. This should be done every 1 week to 2
weeks. Not only will this help sanitize the drain and keep odor down, but it
will also help keep the drain running freely.
Refrigerators. The fridge should be periodically cleaned thoroughly. After cleaning, it should
be wiped with your bleach solution and the food replaced. Spills should be cleaned
up immediately. Food should not be allowed to mold or decay in the refrigerator.
Complex appliances, such as food processors, blenders, and eggbeaters. The dishwasher remains the best method for cleaning these items. Visible food
materials should be removed from crevices, recesses, or tight areas and the washable
parts of the appliances placed in the dishwasher.