An untidy bedroom won’t make you ill but a dirty kitchen potentially can.
“I heard a story in culinary school, during my safety and sanitation class, about a young girl who died from eating watermelon that was cut on the same cutting board as raw meat that was tainted with E.Coli. That really stuck with me because carelessness in the kitchen can have very serious consequences,” says Katie Sannito, owner of The Gourmet Goddess in Munster.
There’s a lot going on in a kitchen: temperature and moisture fluctuations, potentially pathogenic material on site, water, high heat, electricity, sharp objects - all in close proximity to one another. The best way to control this environment, which can breed bacteria or promote cross contamination, is by keeping it clean and organized.
Scott Gilliam, Director of Food Protection for Indiana State Department of Health, says it’s important to routinely clean to avoid the development of biofilm, a slimy film of bacteria that adheres to a surface.
“Biofilm build up shouldn't be happening - you want to avoid that. It can happen over time usually in the nooks and crannies that are hard to clean,” says Gilliam.
Bruce Applegate, Associate Professor in the Department of Food Science at Purdue, says to prevent biofilm from developing surfaces must be mechanically scrubbed.
“When you clean something, make sure you physically scrub it. Once biofilms have a source, they become resistant to cleaners. Then they become a source,” says Applegate. “As biofilms form they undergo changes and it allows them to survive better.”
Norm Faiola, a professor of hospitality and tourism management at Purdue University Calumet, agrees scrubbing the kitchen regularly with hot soapy water is important. But it’s critical after handling raw meat as this can cause foodborne illness.
“Let’s use Thanksgiving as an example. You take the giblet bag out, you’ve got Tom in the sink and you run water over him to rinse out all of the stuff inside. But now you have bacteria on your hands. You touch the faucet, grab a towel – get Tom in the pan and into the oven. If that area is not cleaned and sanitized properly and you go to make the salad next, that’s a classic case of cross contamination,” says Faiola.
Faiola says so much contamination happens in the process of rinsing raw meat, that it should be avoided all together. After all, water won’t kill bacteria - heat will. This is why cooking meat to its proper temperature is necessary.
What is used to scrub a mess can determine the severity of a bacteria load. For example using a sponge or dish cloth that has not been properly cleaned and dried can do more harm than good.
“After you prepare any raw animal food in your kitchen you need to clean it up immediately, preferably using disposable towels rather than a cloth towel or sponge. They will hold contaminates and you can't really get them clean,” says Gilliam.
Faiola and Sannito agree that if you choose to use dish cloths make sure they are rotated on a regular basis – especially when handling raw meat.
Most bacteria and viruses can’t survive on dry surfaces so avoid leaving wet rags or sponges lying around.
“My biggest pet peeve in the world is a soaking wet sponge left in the sink. You're just asking for trouble and to get sick,” says Sannito.
Applegate says although there isn’t a way to be certain a sponge is thoroughly cleaned, heating a moist sponge in the microwave can help reduce bacteria; however, the microwave heats unevenly. Using a heating method such as boiling is better as the temperature is more consistent.
“Just because a surface or dish is free from visible soil, that doesn’t mean it’s sanitary. It can still have a bacterial load on it. By following proper procedures: wash, rinse and sanitize, we can reduce the bacteria load to safe level,” says Faiola.