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10 Tips for a Cleaner, Safer Kitchen

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By Kathleen Purvis

RISMEDIA, April 14, 2011—(MCT)—The first day of spring has come and gone. To get the cleaning season started right, we looked for the best advice on cleaning the busiest—and maybe dirtiest—room in the house: the kitchen.

For a list of what we should clean, how and when, we asked a bunch of germ experts.

The biggest surprise? People with pets are six times more likely to get salmonella-based infections. The culprit is pet bowls, particularly the water bowl. We often dump it in the sink before we start handling food.

Want to sanitize?
Professional kitchens use a sanitizing solution made with one teaspoon household bleach in four cups of water. It’s sprayed on counters and cutting boards. Experts disagree on the need to use it at home, but if you do, do it correctly: Let sprayed surfaces air-dry—drying with dish towels may recontaminate the surface. Always clean before you sanitize. If chlorine comes in contact with dirt or soil, it can no longer sanitize. Don’t use more than one teaspoon chlorine—stronger isn’t better. And change it about every five days. Chlorine dissipates quickly.

1. Microwave
Fill a bowl with two cups water and a whole lemon, cut into slices. Place it inside and microwave for two minutes, then wipe it out with paper towels. The hot water softens food spills and the lemon cuts grease and keeps the microwave smelling fresh

2. Stove and oven
Spray stove spills with an all-purpose cleaner and let stand 10 minutes for easier cleaning. Oven spills aren’t a food hazard if you regularly heat the oven to 400. Cover a fresh spill with salt until you have time to clean it.

3. Counters
Clean regularly with an all-purpose cleaner. Spray with a weak bleach solution and air-dry if needed.

4. Dishes and dishwashers
If you hand-wash dishes, be sure to air-dry them in a rack as dirty or wet dish towels can recontaminate clean dishes. To reduce soap buildup in a dishwasher, occasionally fill the soap dispenser with baking soda or place a small cup of vinegar on the top shelf, then run the dishwater empty.

5. Sink, drain and faucet handle
Clean regularly with household cleanser, especially after washing or rinsing raw meat. Don’t forget to clean the faucet handle.

6. Refrigerator
Every day, wipe down the handles, including the underside. Every week, throw out anything that’s past its date or shows age. Every three to six months, empty shelves and clean the inside with 1/4 cup baking soda in one quart warm water, then spray with a bleach solution and air-dry. Remove drawers and clean under them. Before you return the food, wipe jars to remove drips. Clean the rubber gasket inside the door to ensure a tight seal. Vacuum the coils in the back and empty and clean the drip pan if necessary.

7. Pet bowls
Find a place besides the kitchen to clean turtle or frog habitats and empty pet bowls, or clean and sanitize the sink before you start washing fresh food.

8. Cutting boards
Most scientists believe wooden cutting boards are safest, as long as they are kept clean, sanitized and dry. Studies have shown wood hampers bacteria growth, while bacteria thrive in scars on plastic. Either way, keep them clean by running them through the dishwasher, or sanitize by spritzing with a weak bleach solution. Always change boards or clean with soapy water after preparing raw food—even vegetables. They grow in dirt, after all.

9. Sponges and dish towels
Change dish towels daily, or more often if they’re wet or dirty. You can microwave a wet sponge for two minutes, but the time varies depending on the power of the microwave (and if the sponge is dry, it could catch fire). Instead, put sponges on the top rack of the dishwasher at the end of every day.

10. Cross-contamination
You know you’re not supposed to put cooked food on the same surface you used for raw food. But it’s not just a problem with cutting boards. You touch all kinds of things while you’re handling raw food: Salt and pepper shakers, cabinet handles, etc. Pay attention to what you touch so you can wipe things down. Tip: It’s not necessary to rinse raw meat and chicken—it just spreads bacteria.

Thanks to our sources: Benjamin Chapman, the extension food-safety specialist for N.C. State; David Sweat, foodborne-disease epidemiologist with the North Carolina Division of Public Health; Douglas Powell, professor of food safety at Kansas State University; and Dean Cliver and Linda Harris with the University of California-Davis.

(c) 2011, The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, N.C.).

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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