With continued news about the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S., you might be wondering what else you can do other than wash your hands often, only go outside when necessary, and wear a face mask in public spaces. Well, there’s one space that you’ll want to make sure is kept clean: the kitchen. When it comes to maintaining a clean, tidy space, the kitchen is arguably one of the toughest places to keep clean and sanitized. The stove is covered with sprayed oils, dirty vegetables that have just been yanked from the ground shedding dirt on counters and in the fridge, and everything you’ve touched with your hands—from the sink tap to the handles of the fridge—are covered with whatever bacteria is living on your hands.
So, what to do? To help, we spoke with Marc Bauer, the Senior Director of Culinary and Pastry at the International Culinary Center. Though Marc does plenty of cooking in the kitchen, he also teaches food safety and safe serving courses at ICC, instructing cooks on how to properly preserve a safe space for food—and for yourself. Here’s everything he recommends home cooks uphold in their kitchen, which should be followed now during the coronavirus outbreak—as well as instilled as a general practice moving forward.
On Maintaining a Clean Kitchen
Marc suggests that you should clean all equipment and surfaces—including the floors—with a dousing of soap and water. Rinse, sanitize, and let it air dry. This process should be done every four hours while cooking. By cleaning and sanitizing this often, you’ll help prevent the growth of bacteria. For cleaning dishes, hot water should be kept at 110°F.
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On How to Properly Clean
Marc recommends using this process: Designate a container for washing, filled with soap and water. Submerge all items fully under the water, then rinse and sanitize. The New York City Department of Health also suggests using a bleach-based sanitizer; for every two quarts of water, use one teaspoon of bleach. And make sure to change the sanitizer every four hours.
On What to Do About the Inside of the Fridge
Although your fridge might have some mystery sticky substance glued to the shelf, Marc maintains that there’s no great danger for food inside the fridge, since the temperature does not climb past 42°F. “However, it’s important to consider that each time items are stored in the fridge, there is a risk of contamination,” Marc says. To combat this, Marc recommends cleaning the fridge once a week, as a proactive way to prevent cooked or raw foods from piling up.
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Once any old or contaminated food has been taken out, the entire fridge can be sanitized (food should never come into direct contact with the fridge, so it’s OK to use a sanitizer). If you have, for instance, placed a half-used lemon wedge directly onto a shelf, make sure to wash and rinse those affected areas before moving to a sanitizer.
On Sharing Food in the Kitchen
Marc reminds us that “viruses are 100 times smaller than bacteria. Bacteria will multiply on food if temperatures are in the danger zone (42°F to 140°F, according to the NYC Health Department). Viruses can remain active for undetermined amounts of time on food if touched by someone carrying the virus. However, they will not multiply like bacteria since viruses require a host in order to multiply.” So if you’re worried about contaminated food, make sure to thoroughly rinse and wash any fruits and vegetables before using.
On Swapping out Sponges
While you might have that one pan that’s crusted over in one corner, the dirtiest thing in the kitchen is actually the sponge, closely followed by the sink and trash can. According to Marc, all of these items should be washed with soap, rinsed, and sanitized often, as bacteria can grow within four hours at room temperature (if water and food are introduced).
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On Adding New Sanitizing Products to the Kitchen
On a foundational level, Marc says that the best way to remove contaminants is the simplest: by using soap and water. “At home, I have installed automatic motion sensor dispensers for soap in the kitchen and where I have hand sinks located. This helps to avoid cross contamination while washing hands,” he says.
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