I would rather not poison people.
March 14, 2006 2:33 PM   Subscribe

How do I keep my kitchen clean and sanitary?

How can I effectively wash dishes by hand? What can I do to keep wooden tools clean? How should I go about sterilizing my tools and kitchen surfaces before, during and after food preparation? What bacteria might pose health concerns, how are they spread, and how can I prevent contamination?

I have recently become interested in cooking. However, with my current knowledge in the area of safe food preparation, I would likely poison myself or another. I imagine that quite a deal has been written on this subject, but I have yet to find anything substantial or credible. The nature of this question overwhelms me and I would greatly appreciate receiving some sort of guidance or direction.
posted by davidriley to Food & Drink (31 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Alton Brown's books have rather in-depth discussions of keeping a clean kitchen at the end. I believe it's either "I'm Just Here for the Food" or AB's "Gear For Your Kitchen," perhaps both.

Most library systems should have them if you don't want to shell out the $30 for the book. They are very good books, though.
posted by StrangeTikiGod at 2:39 PM on March 14, 2006

I think the #1 thing to do is to keep your raw meat seperate from everything else, and wash your hands often.
posted by empath at 2:47 PM on March 14, 2006

Clean = base surface + soap + water - residue

YMMV but I've survived fifteen years of my own cooking without injuring myself or houseguests. These days I'm rather a big fan of plain old vinegar cut with water for day-to-day degreasing, etc, as I'd much rather have that in my food than, say, Simple Green.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 3:00 PM on March 14, 2006

You're overthinking this. Relax!

- Use some sort of anti-bacterial dish soap when you wash dishes.
- Wash wooden utensils like you would anything else. I hope this doesn't freak you out, but you'll never get wood sanitary.
- Spray the counter down with some surface cleaner that contains bleach
- What empath said
- As for during the cooking process, the heat of cooking will kill any nasties in your food.

Even if you did none of the above, I suspect that you would find it very difficult to poison anybody.
posted by jclovebrew at 3:00 PM on March 14, 2006

Actually, addenda:

I have toxified myself once through bad ingredients. Undercooking stuff is a far more certain route to spending an afternoon with the porcelain gods.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 3:01 PM on March 14, 2006

Undercooking stuff is a far more certain route to spending an afternoon with the porcelain gods.

Or an invitation for guests.
posted by empath at 3:05 PM on March 14, 2006

Mind if I piggyback: Is anti bacterial dish soap really recommended? I usually avoid the stuff because I think it's a marketing gimmick and promotes bacterial resistance. Am I mistaken?
posted by stray at 3:06 PM on March 14, 2006

1. Dish soap and hot water on your dishes, utensils, pots and pans & other implements after use.

2. Let things dry before you put them away

3. Mind your raw meat. Keep it separate from food that isn't going to be cooked well. Clean knives, cutting boards, and hands etc after using on meat and before using on something that isn't going to be well cooked. Don't get raw meat goo on the faucet handles.

4. Don't clean the floor with the same sponge you use to wash surfaces used in the preparation and consumption with food.

5. Discard plates and cuttingboards that develop cracks and crevices.

You might also have two separate towels for drying dishes and hands.

You don't have to freak out and use antibacterial compounds and bleach on everything. You don't have to sterilize your kitchen implements.
posted by Good Brain at 3:08 PM on March 14, 2006

stray - I've heard that too (NPR segment with a micro-biologist, I believe). I avoid it myself.

Also, I think maybe the OP is over-reacting a bit. If you're worried about contamination, raw meat is a valid concern. If you handle any, just make sure to wash everything that came into contact with it; hands, plates, cutting boards, etc. Soap and water should be sufficient. Some say a 10% bleach solution is good for wiping down surfaces.

And one hiding place for germs that we forget is that sponge/scrubber you use to clean everything. Again, I've heard bleach is good for this, but I like the microwave solution - put the damp thing in the microwave, nuke for 2 minutes, rotate, nuke for another 2 minutes.
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 3:16 PM on March 14, 2006

I keep seperate cutting boards (while I am actively cooking) for raw meats and everything else.

I use spray bleach as part of the cleaning process for the raw meat cutting board. Bleach is pretty awesome stuff. A little does a lot.

For some reason, before I had a dishwasher, I was convinced that dishes washed by hand had to be washed at about 190 degrees. I now know that there's no water temperature that will "sterilize" dishes that my hands will survive, and I've somewhat overcome this fixation with hot water. Soap works great.

and I, too, tjhink that the anti-bacterial dish soap is a silly gimmick, and maybe even a bad idea.

on preview: I 100% agree w/ ObscureReferenceMan re the sponge. Blecch.
posted by popechunk at 3:20 PM on March 14, 2006

I have read that while one might think that a wood cutting board is unsanitary because the germies can soak in, in fact wood has a natural anti-bacterial agent, so soap and hot is plenty on your wood boards. By extension - it's probably good enough on your wooden spoons too.
posted by clh at 3:36 PM on March 14, 2006

The best thing I can tell you to do is to buy the book Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House, because it is awesome. I mean it will inspire awe in you. (Search Inside! it for "ordinary dishwashing" and look at page 115.)
posted by cgc373 at 3:37 PM on March 14, 2006

  • Bacteria grows when food is left at room temperature. If a food should be hot, either eat it or heat it. If a food should be cold, either eat it or refrigerate it.
  • Safe thawing: do not thaw things at room temperature. Thawing overnight in the refrigerator is best. Thawing in the microwave (depending on the food) is second best. Thawing in running water is tied with thawing in the microwave.
  • Do not re-freeze thawed food without cooking it. For example, say you thaw a piece of chicken. Do not re-freeze it in raw chicken form. If, however, you cook it somehow (make a stew, fry the chicken, etc), you can feel free to freeze this cooked chicken form.
  • You can also put that nasty sponge in the dishwasher (instead of the microwave).

posted by crazycanuck at 3:38 PM on March 14, 2006

Here is a review with links to library copies of Home Comforts.
posted by cgc373 at 3:41 PM on March 14, 2006

However, with my current knowledge in the area of safe food preparation, I would likely poison myself or another.

No, you won't. Ogre Lawless points to a good rule of thumb: you're more likely to get food poisoning in a commercial setting than when you're in your own kitchen and have control of ingredients. If you're careful with raw meat and wash your hands and surfaces, you'll be fine. No need to go wild with antibacterials.
posted by holgate at 3:55 PM on March 14, 2006

It's trisoclan usually in the antibacterial soap (also some antigingivitis toothpastes). It seems pointless to me since soap in itself is pretty antibacterial. If I remember correctly they used to (still?) say that the chance of resistance developing was low because trisoclan has multiple targets. There's an awful lot of bacteria out there though...

I have no idea about the gingivitis thing. You'd like to think it's in there after being shown to be effective.
posted by sevenless at 3:58 PM on March 14, 2006

What holgate said. Wash your dishes with soap and water until they look clean. Don't touch stuff after you've touched raw meat. You'll be just fine.
posted by rxrfrx at 4:08 PM on March 14, 2006

Remember, humans evolved around campfires, cooking their food on wooden sticks. We're pretty robust creatures.

The other advice in this thread is excellent... just keep things basically clean. Treat raw chicken as contaminated with pure nasty until it's completely cooked. (it's not all that bad, but some of it is). And bleach is your friend.

I'm fond of the Dobie scrubbers, but they tend to get gunked up after awhile. When I need to clean one, I manually remove any gunk stuck to it, and then soak it in a strong bleach solution overnight. That generally returns it to nearly-new state.

As mentioned, a quick run through the microwave is also a good way to sterilize sponges. Remember that it's not some magic ability of microwaves to kill bacteria (they have none), but rather that the microwaves boil the water in the sponge, which kills pretty much everything in it. That means that the sponge needs to be soaked when you nuke it... nuking a dry sponge A) won't work, and B) may damage the sponge or the microwave.
posted by Malor at 4:35 PM on March 14, 2006

# You can also put that nasty sponge in the dishwasher (instead of the microwave).

Maybe I'm missing something, but how does putting an absorbent sponge in the dishwasher make it clean? Even if you dry it out completely first, it is still full of lots of funky stuff, and will just quickly absorb any water thrown at it. Then it is hot, wet, soapy, and full of funky stuff.

Isn't is better to just replace the sponge, or have multiple sponges?

As for the original question - wash your hands thoroughly after handling raw chicken. Always a good idea with any meat, but chicken is the most important. To speed things up, you can also use disposable latex gloves for the raw chicken. Very cheap at warehouse stores.
posted by bh at 4:56 PM on March 14, 2006

Wooden cutting boards are safer than plastic (just a couple of high ranking google hits).

I imagine the same goes for wood spoons, but I'm not promising anything.

Sorry if that has been mentioned already, but the thread is getting a little long..
posted by Chuckles at 5:34 PM on March 14, 2006

Your perspective is out of wack. The percentage of people that get sick from eating bad food is extremely low. Look up the numbers and then compare to other risks and get some logical perspective on this.

But my best advice is to take a local test for food service workers. Or at least study for it. It has really become a streamlined process - teaching people of varied levels of intelligence the very basic and most important things to know to keep from getting restaurant customers sick so they won't sue the restaurant. Follow the money.

If you do everything that restaurant workers are required to do you will be fine.
posted by 9000.68 at 6:33 PM on March 14, 2006 [1 favorite]

After reading the question I have this mental picture of someone in the kitchen wearing surgical latex gloves and putting knives and forks into an autoclave. Seriously, chill out. Hot water and soap are all you need.
posted by Rhomboid at 6:35 PM on March 14, 2006

From what I recall about food safety training back in my food service career, bacteria need three things to replicate: food, heat, and moisture. Eliminate any one of those and you should be fine. So food should not be left in the "Danger Zone"- about 40 degrees fahrenheit to about 140 degrees- for more than about an hour. In food, bacteria tend to double every twenty minutes. I don't tend to sanitize my food prep surfaces at home very often, I just keep them clean. When I worked in bakeries, I would wipe down surfaces with a mixture of 3 tablespoons bleach to one quart water every day. Bleach is potent stuff. Also, wooden cutting boards act as a desiccant, so if cleaned with soap and water, they should be fine. Unless someone in your household has a compomised immune system, I wouldn't worry about it too much. If you do, talk it over with the doctors. Soap and water, keep hands, utensils, and surfaces clean, use fresh and properly stored meats and animal products and you will not go too far wrong. Have fun.
posted by tbird at 6:50 PM on March 14, 2006

Seconding what cgc373 said about Home Comforts. My roommate, who is fastidiously clean, and loves the book.

Also, don't forget to squeeze out excess water from your sponge, after you wash the dishes. And get a pair of rubber gloves. The gloves will protect you hands, enabling you to use hotter water for rinsing.
posted by hooray at 7:34 PM on March 14, 2006

As mentioned multiply above, the most important thing is to make sure anything that touches raw meat (hands, knives, counters, cutting boards) does not touch anything else before being disinfected. I wash my hands with regular soap or detergent; the anti-bacterial stuff seems like a marketing gimmick to me. For everything else, I use lots of vinegar and/or lemon juice plus boiling-hot water from the kettle, and (for sponges, spoons, etc.) a periodic simmering in an Oxiclean broth. I have several versions of each kind of knife so I can use separate ones for meat and vegetables, and I keep one cutting board reserved for meat. (I only use wooden boards because I don't like how the poly or plastic ones feel.) It also can't hurt to buy meat, especially chicken, that's been raised organically and farm-slaughtered, rather than sent to feedlots or commercial processors. It's the mass processing that causes most cases of contamination.

More generally -- relax. Unless you regularly gnaw on raw chicken and serve sewage casserole, you won't hurt yourself or anyone else. There's even clinical evidence to support my grandmother's contention that "what don't kill ya cures ya," i.e., frequent exposure to uncleanliness strengthens the immune system. And I am remarkably healthy (I can't remember the last time I even had a cold) -- though I don't know whether that's because of or despite a (disease-free) childhood of eating biscuits picked up off the floor, from plates the dog licked.
posted by vetiver at 8:21 PM on March 14, 2006

That second link about wood vs plastic cutting boards is fascinating. I'm going to have to think about that, I have avoided wooden cutting boards and spoons for ages.
posted by arcticwoman at 9:45 PM on March 14, 2006

Yes, Home Comforts is very comprehensive.

Washing your hands: comfortable hot water (you don't need to burn yourself), regular soap, and a little time and friction is what you need. The soap helps pull the bacteria off your hands and down the drain. You can still get liquid soap without anti-bacterial agents from Ivory and Jergens; look for house brands, too.

Wooden cutting boards: wash well under hot water, wipe dry with a paper towel, then spray with a vinegar solution and let stand for a few minutes before rinsing and letting air dry in a rack.

Surfaces touched by raw meat, like countertops: wash well (with a cloth that will be immediately retired and laundered in hot water before being used again), then spray with a weak bleach solution (a few drops in 2 cups of water) and let stand for a few minutes before wiping down with paper towels.

You don't need anti-bacterial cleaners. They're expensive, encourage bacterial resistance, and offer no more protection than the proper use of hot water, soap and vinegar or bleach.
posted by rosemere at 10:07 PM on March 14, 2006

Oh, and sponges are NASTY. You can clean dishes and surfaces with dishcloths which have a lot less space for bacteria to hide in. If you need a scrubber, those green nylon scrubbing pads are great, while still airy enough to allow thorough drying.
posted by rosemere at 10:09 PM on March 14, 2006

* You can microwave your sponges to sanitize them.
* Anti-bacterial soap is a marketing gimmick.
* Vinegar or, if you want to be extra-careful, vinegar and peroxide will disinfect pretty much as well as bleach, and is food-safe.
* Not a food safety thing, but occasionally oil those wooden utensils with mineral oil, by the way.
posted by desuetude at 6:57 AM on March 15, 2006

Buy enough dish towels and sponges so you can throw them in the laundry frequently. Wood cutting boards hold less bacteria then plastic, but not enough to make it a major issue. Having more than 1 cutting board allows you to reserve 1 side of 1 board for meat, and you can let them dry between washing. Wash your hands a lot, keep the counters wiped with a reasonably clean sponge. Most germs don't suvive long in a dry environment. Sunshine is naturally good at killing germs. All those commercials about germs in the kitchen are about selling product. Pay attention to food safety rules about refrigeration and food storage, and wash your hands some more, and you'll be fine.
posted by theora55 at 11:24 AM on March 15, 2006

I was in a hurry in my previous post. Here are some links that have useful information.

UCDavis has a Food Science program, so their information is pretty reliable, IMO. http://efnep.ucdavis.edu/FoodSafety.htm

Here is a government link on food safety for consumers http://www.foodsafety.gov/~fsg/fsgadvic.html that has links to specific issues for certain populations like seniors and for specific food types like meat/dairy.

I have had very few food related illnesses and all of those are from eating out. Making your own food is safer, cheaper, and generally more nutritious. I applaud your effort to learn to cook.
posted by tbird at 4:34 PM on March 15, 2006

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