11 Rules to Keep Your Kitchen Clean and Safe

Chow on 05.21.11
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I am a terrible housekeeper. I have the feeling that that is the reason I became such a good cook. Housework avoidance. I have a refrigerator magnet which represents my philosophy exactly. It says "A clean house is the sign of a wasted life". I would always rather be playing with the kids, in my garden, playing the piano or reading, but the fact of the matter is that you have to clean sometimes. My daughter and I have been spring cleaning the house for the past week as I am having 30 people for dinner next week, and even I am shocked by the size of dust bunnies lurking everywhere. Usually I just take my glasses off while I'm in the house and I can't see them.

So it was with a bit of trepidation that I read an article in the Sydney Morning Herald about whether or not your kitchen is safe, but it turns out that in food preparation, where cleanliness really matters, I did very well. I believe I have my kitchen cleanliness obsessed mother to thank for this. Like me, she sometimes let the rest of the house go a bit, especially when she worked full time, or it was gardening season, but her kitchen was always (and still is) spotless.

Here are a few points for you to think about and see how your kitchen and your kitchen habits fare. Some of these are from the article, but many of them are things that I think make for a clean kitchen environment.

1. Wash Your Hands!

The first thing I do when I enter my kitchen is wash my hands and I have the cracked and bleeding skin to show for it during the dry winter months. I must try counting sometime, but certainly wash my hands dozens of times while I cook dinner. According to inspectors, both in commercial kitchens and home kitchens, an astonishing number of people don't think about washing their hands until they are well into cooking.

2. Change Your Tea Towels and Hand Towels

The inspector in the Herald article said you should change your tea towel daily, as my mother does. I don't, because I'm lazy and usually leave my dishes in the drainer to air dry, so I don't necessarily use the tea towel. I tend to wash and dry stuff as I use it if I need it again for the same meal, so I might keep my tea towel for 2 or 3 days. A similar article from my local newspaper earlier this year said that one of the biggest sources of bacteria and contamination in a kitchen is that handy towel that you button onto your stove or refrigerator handle and leave for a week or two.

3. Prevent Cross Contamination

Probably the biggest source of contamination is using the same cutting board or knife for different ingredients without washing them first. You can buy different coloured chopping boards so that you keep vegetable, bread and poultry boards separate if you like, just don't use one board for everything. All your boards should be washed in hot soapy water as soon as you are finished using them. With the poultry board, rinse it first in cold water to remove the proteins, otherwise you get that hard to clean white film. Wash your knives between uses, even if you are just cutting vegetables.

4. Clean Your Sink Daily

Okay, I fall down here. I don't clean my sink as often as I should, but I get the point. I'll try to do it more in the future, especially now that it is super shiny along with the rest of my kitchen after the spring cleaning.

5. Clean Your Exhaust Hood Regularly

Well, I really fall down here. Apparently it is one of the first places that inspectors check in restaurants. Of course, all that cooking grease just grabs any dust and bacteria out of the air and holds it over the place you cook. Makes sense, and it's gone on the list of things to clean in my kitchen.

6. Your Dishcloth is Not Multi-Purpose

There is nothing that makes me gag faster than going to someone's house and seeing them wipe up a spill on the floor with a dishcloth. I have even seen someone wipe their child's nose with a dishcloth and then toss it back into the sink. Don't do this, ever. Dish cloths should be used for only this purpose and should be washed frequently.

7. Keep Your Grocery Bags and Purse on the Floor

Especially now that we re-use shopping bags, think about where that bag, or your purse has been. Now think about what it has deposited onto your kitchen counter.

8. Defrost Meat in the Refrigerator

Lots of people make the mistake of defrosting food on the counter or dish drainer. In the morning rush, they pull something out of the freezer for dinner and leave it on the draining board so that it will be defrosted by the time they get home. The centre of the meat can still be frozen while the exterior is breeding bacteria. Take it out the night before and let it defrost overnight in the refrigerator.

9. Do You Really Need to Open the Fridge?

Every time you open your refrigerator the temperature goes down, opening the door for bacteria growth, so don't do it unless you need to. Don't leave the door open while you pour the milk into your coffee or let your kids search endlessly for something to eat. Cold food should be cold. Keep it that way.

10. Put Your Leftovers Away Promptly

Leftovers sitting on the kitchen cupboard or sitting in the pots they were cooked in produce bacteria at an alarming rate. Let your food cool a bit, then put them into a covered container in the refrigerator and eat them as soon as you can. I have to say, I was surprised that cooked rice should be consumed the next day because of the bacteria that grows.

11. Pets, Pets, Pets

My local newspaper had an article where the kitchen inspector said she couldn't pass any home kitchen where there was a cat in the house. They go from the litter box to the kitchen counter or the dining room table. My first cat, the elegant Fido, would never have dreamt of leaping onto the counter or the table, but my daughter's cat, Cal gets up on the table, but he knows if he's caught on the kitchen counter he's in serious trouble. I also have an extremely hairy Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, so I have to be extra careful about dog hair in the kitchen. Also, don't let your dog lick the plates. That's just disgusting.