The Centers for Disease Control (2011) estimates that there are about 48 million cases of food borne illnesses every year. Fortunately, most of us can experience a foodborne illness with little or no symptoms. For others, severe cases of vomiting, diarrhea, and even death can occur. Certain groups are more at risk for severe illness: the very young, the elderly, pregnant women, and those who have weakened immune systems due to illness.
A recent Center for Science in the Public Interest report suggests that although restaurants are the number one location for reported foodborne illnesses, private homes are second. Restaurants serve a high volume of people making them susceptable to food borne illness, so are held to extremely high safety standards which we don’t always adhere to at home. Practicing poor personal hygiene, contaminating ready-to-eat food with raw meat juices, not cooking foods to proper temperatures, and not storing foods properly are all culprits when people get sick from their very own kitchens.
One critical food safety practice that restaurants adhere to but we as consumers often neglect is cleaning AND then sanitizing all food contact surfaces. Cleaning involves removing dirt from surfaces using soap and water. Sanitizing involves reducing germs to safe levels on a food contact surface by applying chemicals or heat. Both cleaning and sanitizing are important steps to keep food safe. If you don’t clean, your sanitizer won’t work well and you’ll still have germs. If you don’t sanitize, you’ll have a clean surface full of germs.
According to a new Ohio State University Extension factsheet entitled “Cleaning and Sanitizing in the Kitchen: Using inexpensive household food-safe products” there are several points to consider when cleaning and sanitizing:
- Cleaning and Sanitizing should be considered BEFORE and AFTER food preparation on a daily bases if you live with those who are at risk for foodborne illness and/or if you have a pet that climbs on counters. Otherwise, you’ll need to think about what is best given your situation.
- When cleaning with soap and water, make sure to rinse with clean water and air dry or dry with a paper towel. Soap residue can reduce the effectiveness of a sanitizer.
- When sanitizing, leave the sanitizer on the surface for the recommended amount of time. Allow it to air dry or dry with a paper towel.
Unfortunately, commercial sanitizers are often expensive and not always eco-friendly. Consider using the following inexpensive household products as sanitizers:
- Diluted Chlorine Bleach (6.1%) Solution – Mix 1 scant teaspoon with a 1 quart of room temperature water and apply to food contact surface for 1 minute. This solution can be kept in a spray bottle for one week. Chlorine bleach will kill Listeria, E.coli, and Salmonella.
- Undiluted Hydrogen Peroxide (3%) – Apply warm (130 degrees) for 1 minute or apply at room temperature for 10 minutes. The warm method is more effective against Listeria and so should be considered if preparing food for pregnant women.
- Undiluted White Distilled Vinegar (5%) – Apply warm (130 degrees) for 1 minute or apply at room temperature for 10 minutes. The warm method is more effective against Listeria and E. Coli but both methods are effective at preventing Salmonella.
- Baking Soda has not been proven to be an effective sanitizer.
Dan Remley, Assistant Professor
Field Specialist, Food, Nutrition, and Wellness
Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, Franklin County firstname.lastname@example.org