If you’re a cook, there’s no busier time than the holidays. And when you’re as busy as you are, things can get a little…messy. Let’s face it – between work, the kids, your personal life, your social life, and your sudden holiday workload, who has time to clean the kitchen?
Unfortunately, skipping that essential step can be making you and your family sick. But no worries, we’ll help you target the problem spots in your kitchen and let you know how you can easily and efficiently keep your kitchen germ-free!
What are the dangers of not disinfecting your kitchen?
Just because your kitchen looks clean, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t harmful bacteria lurking on every surface. In fact, the kitchen harbors more bacteria than any other spot in your home, the heat and constant moisture making it an ideal spot for cultivating bacterial growth. It doesn’t help that it’s where we keep almost all of our foodstuff, either.
Bacteria can breed at an exponential rate. Within just a few hours, a poorly-cleaned kitchen can host enough bacteria to cause very serious illness to people who eat the food produced there. While most bacteria are benign, there are those that can be dangerous. Three of the worst offenders are Salmonella, E-coli, and Listeria.
Salmonella causes salmonellosis, a type of blood poisoning that can result in very nasty stomach upsets, causing diarrhea and vomiting. In some cases, these symptoms are accompanied by chills, uncontrollable shaking, and headaches. It takes about 4-7 days for the poison to work its way through your system, and people can generally recover from it with care and increased hydration.
However, children, pregnant women, people with compromised immune systems, and the elderly are at serious risk. A bout of salmonellosis for these people could mean serious damage, and can even be fatal.
Listeria causes listeriosis, and can also potentially be fatal, mostly because it is a kind of food poisoning that is often misdiagnosed. The symptoms of listeriosis include fever, muscle aches, and sometimes nausea or diarrhea. Should the infection spread to the nervous system, the affected person will begin to exhibit symptoms such as headache, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance; and in extreme cases, convulsions can occur.
The e-coli bacteria may be more common, but has less horrible effects. If infected, a person suffers abdominal pain, diarrhea, fever, and dehydration. More severe infections can lead to bloody diarrhea, dehydration, or even kidney failure.
These are the most common causes of food-borne illness, and all three can be found – you guessed it – in your kitchen. Now, doesn’t disinfecting the place where you put all your family’s food make sense?
We’re not saying that you should start mandating disinfectant baths for anyone who walks through your kitchen. A little exposure to bacteria is necessary to build up a healthy immune system. However, you should make sure that the bacteria in your kitchen stay within safe levels.
If the holiday rush is upon you, you might not have the time to do large tasks like cleaning out your refrigerator or wiping down your cupboards. Get a head start and do them ahead of time, and you’ll be all set.
You’ll need to prepare what you need to clean as you go, too. As you scramble to gather all your holiday supplies, include what you’ll need to mop up any spills, clean up after your guests, and generally keep your kitchen in tip-top shape.
Finally, don’t forget that even sitting in your cupboard, dishes can still get dirty. The night before the busiest time, prep everything you need and wash the pots, pans, dishes, and serving sets in hot, soapy water, especially if they’ve been in storage for a long time.
Trouble spots and how to disinfect them
Your kitchen has hotspots for bacteria, which aren’t always obvious. Get to these trouble-makers and keep your holiday guests safe!
1. Sponges and dish rags
Nobody really considers to disinfect the thing you rely on to disinfect everything else. However, your kitchen sponge may be the most bacteria-infested thing in your home. Research has even indicated that it’s dirtier than most toilets!
What’s worse, if you’re using a contaminated sponge to wipe a bacteria-containing area, and then use the same one to wipe countertops and other surfaces, you’re giving all those germs a free ride around your kitchen. The same thing goes for dish rags. Think of the lovely, damp space you’re giving the bacteria to honeymoon in when you simply wipe all over your kitchen and leave the wet cloth on your countertop!
To eliminate the problem and prevent cross-contamination, designate a sponge for a single purpose, and use it for that purpose alone. The dish sponge should never meet the countertops, and the sponge used for the inside of the refrigerator should never see the dishes.
Replace your sponges when they seem to be getting worn – which is around two weeks for the most used one, usually for dishes and pans. Wash and dry them after use, preferably drying them in the sun to take advantage of sunlight’s anti-bacterial properties. If you can’t let your sponges and rags sunbathe, nuke them in the microwave for the same effect.
2. The kitchen sink
Your sink is constantly wet, and constantly in contact with food particles. However, keeping this kitchen mainstay sanitized is easy. Prepare a disinfectant solution for non-food surfaces (the sink, your countertops, the floor) by mixing ½ cup of disinfectant bleach with one gallon of water, and keep it in a spray bottle. After the day’s washing is done, simply wash out your sink and spray the solution on the faucet handle and sink surface, being especially careful to get the drain area.
You could leave this to air dry, but if you have pets or children that might wander over to the sink while you’re not looking, you may want to rinse that out after letting it sit for a few minutes.
3. Cutting boards
These bad boys are notorious for cross-contamination, especially after being used to cut raw chicken. They also have teensy little grooves in them, which make them hard to clean.
To prevent cross-contamination, assign one cutting board for meat, poultry and seafood, and another only for fruits and veggies. If you can, assign one to food that is eaten raw exclusively as well. Wash them after every use, and make sure that they dry thoroughly, especially if you’re using a wood board.
Make a disinfectant mix of 2 teaspoons of bleach and a gallon of water, and apply it to your boards every week or so, when you can afford to let them sit and rest for a while. When your wooden board becomes too battle-scarred, consider repurposing it, ditching it, or having it rejuvenated by heavily sanding it until the surface is completely smooth again, and then applying a food-grade mineral oil to help seal its various natural pores, which keeps bacteria from gaining a foothold.
That last option might consume a bit of time, because the mineral oil needs to cure the wood, meaning a resting time of at least 48 hours.
4. The refrigerator
Unsurprisingly, the fridge handle gets all sorts of gunk on it. It sees a lot of action, and not everyone remembers to wash and wipe their hands when preparing food. To help contain the damage, remember to wipe it down with your bleach solution for non-food surfaces every so often, preferably when nobody’s going to be making too much use of the kitchen so it has time to do its job.
5. Can opener gears and blender blades
Have you ever really looked at these items and wondered what all that rust and miscellaneous strange stains are going to do to your food? Nothing good, we say.
To make sure you’re getting everything washed, consider using a brush instead of a sponge. Never ever let any food residue stay trapped in there, or it will not only dull your blades and stall your gears, but it may also lead to a nasty infection.
Wash the said tools in a bleach solution if they’ve been in storage for a while, and always let them dry out thoroughly after every washing.
It doesn’t take much to maintain a clean, healthy kitchen – just a little prep, planning, and elbow grease!
The holidays are hard on everyone’s kitchen – the bad thing about cooking is that it always necessitates cleanup. Sometimes you may feel the need to let cleaning tasks slide a bit. Who can blame you? It’s the holidays and we’re all super busy!
However, skipping out on cleanup can have serious consequences – from bacterial infections that give you a nasty stomach bug to one that can potentially cause your liver to fail. It’s a simple matter to keep your kitchen clean for the holidays, and we can help!
Remember to prepare disinfectant solutions and use them liberally, and get the main offenders. These are your sponges, your cutting board, the sink, your blenders and can openers, and even your refrigerator handle! Wipe them down often and you should be all set to celebrate in good health.