How to Have a Healthy and Safe Kitchen
I’m starting up Naturally Bubbly with some blog posts about kitchen cleanliness and food safety. The holidays are upon us and many of us are cooking for ourselves and our loved ones, our friends, our co-workers, and our neighbors. Nothing is more important than health and safety in your kitchen.
Giving people food poisoning for the holidays would be a bummer or worse, possibly deadly! It’s not hard to cook clean and green, we just need to follow some basic rules and understand a little bit about how these food borne bacteria grow and multiply in our food and on our kitchen surfaces.
For starters, the kitchen is the dirtiest room in most homes. You might think of your bathroom, basement or attic as the dirtiest room in your house. But no, the kitchen, according to many, is the dirtiest room in the whole house. Why is this so?
Well, from what I have learned, bacteria and germs live and breed in warm, sometimes cool, wet areas where there is a constant source of food. And what is food to us is food to the bacteria. Therefore, my logical brain surmises, as the kitchen is for those of us who love to cook and eat at home, the center of our homes, so it is so for our bacteria!
Now, in terms of your attic or basement, well, dirt is just dirt, unless of course you have years of toxic chemicals stored in that basement, but that is another topic. And the bathroom, well for obvious reasons there are bacteria and germs in there, but you don’t make food in the bathroom. You do, however, brush your teeth in the bathroom, so I guess keeping your toothbrush sanitized is a good idea. We’ll get into that in another post as well.
Do: Keep Some Perspective on Bacteria and Germs While you Create a Healthy and Safe Kitchen | Don’t: Become Germaphobic
Okay, so there are bacteria and germs by the millions all over every surface of our homes and of our world actually. Look over some helpful statistics from a November-December 2011 Audubon Magazine sidebar called ‘Bacteria Bevy’:
“Potential number of bacteria found in 1 teaspoon of soil
Kilometers above earth’s surface that high-altitude bacteria live and affect weather events like rain and snow
Kilometers underground that strains of bacteria can thrive in solid rock
Ratio of bacterial cells to human cells in the body
Percent of bacteria that are helpful: breaking down organic matter, purifying water, and helping us digest our food
Percent of oil that natural processes—including bacterial breakdown—removed from Alaska’s Prince William sound in10 years
I think it’s best not to get hysterical about bacteria. Rather it is important to keep in mind that we share the earth and space with bacteria, most of which are friendly and helpful, or at least neutral to humans. Germs might be what we would call the harmful bacteria.
Kitchen Health and Safety – Do you Really Need to Disinfect?
With that warning against hysteria in mind, let’s talk disinfectants. Like many things, prevention is the best way to keep a clean kitchen. Taking steps to avoid contamination of food preparation surfaces and food storage areas is the best way to prevent food poisoning in your kitchen. According to Annie Berthold-Bond in her book Better Basics for the Home (and keeping in mind our perspective that we are bacteria, bacteria are us) Ms. Berthold-Bond says that we cannot,
“. . . sterilize our homes even if we use a lot of disinfectants. Buying disinfectants is a waste of money. Our focus should not be on disinfectants as much as on good handling practices of meat and cleanliness of high-risk areas such as bathrooms.
Disinfectants have to be registered as pesticides with the environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in order to make a disinfectant claim on packaging. If you don’t need to have a registered disinfectant—for example, if you don’t have a to clean a medical facility but simply want to clean your home—there are a lot of workable options that are much less toxic.”
Like vinegar and 3% hydrogen peroxide for example. But we shouldn’t call them disinfectants since they are not registered pesticides. From here on I will be talking about sanitizing, not disinfecting.
Killing Viruses on Kitchen Surfaces
Viruses on the other hand, are an enemy that we should definitely be trying to get rid of. The only proven way to kill a virus is chlorine bleach mixed with water. If you have a family member with the flu at home, cleaning surfaces regularly with bleach and water is a really good idea, even if you are in principal against using chlorine bleach! And of course lots of hand washing.
Washing of hands, it turns out, according to the CDC, Is effective because it literally knocks the pesky viruses and germs off your hands, as long as you wash for 20 seconds under cold running water and use soap. Soap doesn’t kill bacteria or viruses, it gets in-between the germ and the surface and dislodges it. So, now you know.
For most people health and safety in the kitchen can be achieved by simply washing hands and surfaces with soap and water before and after preparing food, and avoiding cross contamination while handling meat, poultry, and dairy products. Simple!