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Getting Serious About Kitchen Cleanliness:
A step-by-Step Guide

For most families, the kitchen is the heart of the home. It’s a place where people congregate for conversations, family meals, school homework, arts and crafts projects, and much more. But, according to Dr. Charles Gerba, a microbiologist and professor of virology at the University of Arizona, the kitchen is also the heart of your home’s germs. “Between prepping and cleaning, the kitchen is a veritable incubator for bacteria,” says Gerba.  

When was the last time you disinfected your kitchen sink faucet, refrigerator, oven, or trash can? “During food prep, be aware that bacteria in food and touching it can spread it to other surfaces and potentially cause illness,” says infectious disease specialist Susan Rehm, MD. Common bacteria found in the kitchen include E.coli, salmonella, shigella, campylobacter, norovirus, and hepatitis A.   

E.coli can survive for hours on a surface, salmonella can survive for about four hours and hepatitis A can survive for months,” says Dr. Rehm. Get serious about kitchen cleanliness and get rid of illness-causing germs and bacteria by following the step-by-step cleaning routine below – intended for weekly or bi-weekly cleanings (depending on how heavily you use your kitchen):

1). Clear the clutter off your kitchen counters

It’s hard to properly clean around items on kitchen counters that don’t belong there in the first place. Start in one corner of the kitchen and remove everything that doesn’t belong on your counters. Don’t bog yourself down by putting items away one by one right now. Just clear them away from the counter. You can put things where they belong after all the counters are clear or after the kitchen is completely clean.

2). Wash any lingering dirty dishes 

Empty the dishwasher and the dish drainer. If you have any lingering dirty dishes or pans that still need to get washed, you’ll want to take care of them now. If your dishwasher is full or nearly full of dirty dishes, run it before you continue cleaning. Wash any and all dishes that are hanging around, including those water bottles that tend to be out on the counter next to the sink.

3). Dust the tops of the refrigerator and cabinets

No matter which room in your home you are tackling, cleaning from top to bottom always makes sense. As dirt and dust are dislodged and settle on the next lower surface, you’re sure to clean it up. In the kitchen, you might start with dusting any overhead light fixtures and/or ceiling fans, then get the top of your refrigerator and the tops of your cabinets.

4). Clean small appliances

Next, is cleaning any small appliances that get regular use such as your microwave, toaster, toaster oven, electric can opener, panini maker, stand mixer or any others. Start with the interiors such as dumping out crumbs in the toaster/toaster oven and running a vinegar/water cycle through your coffee maker. Even clean water that lingers in a warm, moist environment like a coffee maker can create a perfect environment for bacteria, yeast, and mold to grow.

Steam the inside of your microwave with vinegar and wipe it down. For electric can openers, wipe the blade with a disinfectant wipe and dry completely to prevent bacterial growth. Finish up by wiping down the exterior of each small appliance. Use a microfiber cloth dampened with a white vinegar solution or a bit of all-purpose cleaner. Don’t use vinegar on stainless steel as it could strip the shine.

Some small appliances must be cleaned after every use. At least weekly, disassemble and clean small appliances thoroughly. Some components are safe to place in the dishwasher and others should be washed in hot, soapy water and then rinsed in hot water and dried completely.

5). Clean anything that stays put on your counters

In addition to small appliances that get regular use, you may have a tray of cooking oils, a cutting board, or a crock of cooking utensils out on your counters. Make sure these items are clean. Give trays a dusting or wash or wipe them down, and wipe down any bottles or containers. This is also a good time to wipe down your dish rack and toss the drying mat in the washer.

Cutting boards make food preparation easier and protect our kitchen countertops. But with each cut, tiny scratches and nicks appear that can harbor bacteria. Cutting boards should be washed after every use with hot, soapy water. Rinse well with hot water and dry with a clean cloth. Glass or plastic cutting boards can be placed in the dishwasher for a thorough cleaning.

6). Scrub down the exterior of your stove and oven

A thorough oven cleaning might be a task better tackled at another time, but cleaning the exterior goes a long way in obtaining a spic-and-span kitchen. If you have a gas stovetop, remove the grills (you may want to give them a good soak if they’re grimy) and wipe the surface underneath with an all-purpose cleaner.

If you have electric burners, they can be cleaned with diluted dish soap and wipe the surface below with an all-purpose cleaner. If you have an electric glass stovetop, wipe the whole thing down with warm soapy water. Once the top is clean, wipe down the front of the oven with an all-purpose cleaner, white vinegar, or diluted dish soap.

Don’t forget the knobs and display. Oven knobs are often touched by our dirty hands after handling all sorts of foods. First, pull the knobs off and allow them to soak in a bowl of white vinegar. If you can’t remove the knobs, spray them thoroughly with the solution.

Next, wipe down the entire surface with a cloth, including the display. Be sure to scrub where the knobs normally sit. Then, take the knobs and clean them thoroughly. Finally, allow them to dry and replace them onto the appliance.

7). Wipe down your countertops

Once your dishes are all washed and put away, you’ve dusted, and your small appliances are shiny clean, it’s time to give your counters a good clean. With so much happening on your countertops from chopping and preparing food, to cooking and storage, spillages and cross-contaminations can be common.

Start by taking everything off your counters that permanently live there. Dislodge crumbs caught between counters and the oven with a pan scraper, as necessary. Wipe your counters down thoroughly with a bit of cleaner appropriate for your counter type and a microfiber cloth. Buff dry to make counters gleam. Repeat with each section of the counter. 

8).  Deep clean your sink

Even though there is plenty of water running through your kitchen sink, there are likely microbes lurking on the surface, especially in the crevices where the sink joins the counter. According to the National Sanitation Foundation International (NSF), 45% of all home sinks tested had E. Coli or some type of coliform bacteria.

There are more fecal bacteria in a sink than there is in a flushed toilet,” Dr. Gerba told Today. “That’s why dogs drink out of the toilet. They know better than to drink out of the kitchen sink,” he joked.

The kitchen sink should be disinfected after every meal preparation, washing dishes or at least once per day, and don’t forget the handles and faucet and the counter areas near the sink. Use a sink cleaner that contains a disinfecting agent and a clean towel or disposable.

Finish by filling your sink with hot water and adding bleach to the water. Let it sit for ten minutes and drain. Do not forget the backsplashes. If you have a garbage disposal, now is the time to pour baking soda with warm water or a lemon peel down the disposal to freshen the drain.

9). Clear out the fridge

Even with the cold temperatures, some pretty harmful bacteria can thrive inside your fridge. Most fruit and vegetables will stay fresh longer if they are not washed before storing. So, into the vegetable drawer they go, still covered with bacteria and pesticides. Of course, you wash them before preparing and serving them to your family, but the bacteria and germs are left behind in the crisper drawer.

The same thing happens with raw meat that is stored in the refrigerator. Packaging leaks and fluids accumulate in the drawers and along the edges of shelves. Even packaged products like milk or tubs of butter have been handled and stored numerous times before they enter your refrigerator. To get rid of the coliform bacteria, as well as yeast and mold that can be grown there, remove refrigerator drawers or shelves and wash the surfaces with a mild detergent and hot or warm water.

Dry with a clean cloth or paper towel. Between thorough cleanings, wipe away any spills and give the interior surfaces a quick wipe with a disinfecting wipe. When you are doing a deeper cleaning inside the fridge, take a few minutes to vacuum behind and underneath as well. Remove the vent cover to vacuum the coils. Dust on coils makes the refrigerator work harder to stay cool, using more energy, and food particles hiding underneath are insect magnets.

10). Clean the exterior of your large appliances

Wipe down the outside of your refrigerator and the dishwasher. Polish with stainless steel cleaner if appropriate.

11). Empty and wipe down your garbage pail

Now may not be the time to completely wash your garbage pail, but make it as clean as you can inside the kitchen by taking out the trash if it’s full, vacuuming out any crumbs in the bottom of the can, and wiping it inside and out with a disinfecting wipe. Do the same with your recycling bins.

12). Sweep, vacuum, mop the floor

Sweep with a broom to pick up all the larger crumbs and debris that end up on the kitchen floor, especially near your cabinet toe kicks. Nudge your broom under the fridge and oven, too. After sweeping, use a vacuum cleaner to get the fine dust and dirt. Follow it up with a thorough mopping to get at dirt and grime.

13). Replace all sponges and dishtowels with fresh ones

Sponges (whether natural or man-made) are porous, and while great at absorbing spills, they hold onto moisture and the bacteria that can thrive in that environment can cause illness. Sponges should be washed in hot, soapy water and placed in a spot with good air circulation to dry after every use.

They can also be cleaned on the top rack in an automatic dishwasher or tossed in the washer for a hot water cycle. If the sponge has a funky odor, it’s a sign of excessive bacterial growth and should be tossed out. Fabric kitchen towels are an essential and a great way to reduce the use of paper towels. The danger comes if you are not washing them often enough and causing cross-contamination on kitchen surfaces.

According to a study by the National Sanitation Foundation International, at least 75 percent of kitchen towels tested harbor coliform bacteria (Salmonella or E.coli). In the kitchen, it’s best to use separate towels for cleaning, food preparation, and hand washing. Wash the towels in hot water after each use.  

Final thoughts

If the kitchen is the heart of your home, it needs daily cleaning as well as a deeper weekly or bi-weekly clean. Think about what lands on your kitchen counters and shelves – uncooked, unwashed, and raw food; purses and backpacks that have been sitting on floors everywhere; and how often we touch refrigerator handles and cabinet knobs. Following the step-by-step cleaning guide above will help ensure that your kitchen is super clean and free of illness-causing germs.

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