Be the Star On Your Kitchen Safety Squad

Updated:Apr 21,2014

SCWH - Be the Star

Be the Star On Your Kitchen Safety Squad

A clean kitchen is a safe kitchen—free from unwanted guests like the bacteria that can cause food poisoning, and free from accidents that result in cuts and burns. Follow these simple strategies for a safe and sparkling kitchen. 

Hand washing
Always wash your hands with soap and water before preparing food. Rub your hands vigorously for at least 20 seconds (about the time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday.”) Remember to scrub the backs of your hands, wrists, between your fingers and under your fingernails. Wash your hands again after touching raw meat, using the bathroom, blowing your nose or handling pets.

Use separate sponges for dishwashing and cleaning countertops and other surfaces. Replace sponges frequently. To kill bacteria on a sponge, pour boiling water over it in the sink. You can also disinfect a damp sponge in the microwave, on high for 60 seconds. Make sure the sponge is damp.

Wipe up spills and splatters when they happen.
Never operate the microwave if it is damaged in any way, such as broken door seals or loose latches. Don’t operate a microwave when it’s empty, as it can damage its inside surfaces.
Do not heat anything metal in a microwave, including aluminum foil and dishes and utensils with a metal trim.

Steam can burn, so use the right coverings. Some microwave dishes have lids. Waxed paper allows steam to escape, so place it loosely over the food. Paper towels, placed over or under the food, allow steam to escape and catch splatters. Plastic wrap should fit snuggly over the dish to avoid splatters, but you should pierce the top in a few places to let the steam out while the food cooks. Remove the coverings carefully, away from your face.

Cutting boards
Consider using one cutting board for produce and bread and a separate one for raw meat and fish. If you only have one cutting board, designate one side for meat and one side for produce and bread.

Wash cutting boards with hot, soapy water after each use, especially after cutting raw meat and fish. Then, rinse with clear water and air dry or pat dry with clean paper towels. Acrylic, plastic, glass, and solid wood boards can be washed in a dishwasher. Laminated boards may crack and split. These boards have several pieces of wood glued together.

Both wooden and plastic cutting boards can be sanitized with a solution of one tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of water. Soak the board in the sink with the bleach solution for several minutes. Rinse with clear water and air dry or pat dry with clean paper towels.

Nothing lasts forever, and even your favorite cutting board will wear out over time. Once wood or plastic cutting boards develop hard-to-clean grooves, they should be replaced, because there’s nothing groovy about harboring bad bacteria.

Keep raw meat and fish in a well-sealed container or package. Store them on the bottom shelf to avoid any escaped raw juices from dripping down on other food.

Once a week, throw out perishable foods that are past their prime. A general rule of thumb for cooked leftovers is four days. To keep the refrigerator smelling fresh, place an opened box of baking soda inside. Four times a year, use a vacuum cleaner to clean the condenser coil (on the back of the refrigerator). Getting rid of all that dirt and lint will save energy and help your fridge do its job.
The temperature in your refrigerator should stay in the range of 34 degrees to 40 degrees to keep food fresh and discourage bad bacteria from moving in. You can use a thermometer in your refrigerator and freezer to test the temperature. Refrigerator/freezer thermometers don’t cost a lot and are a good food safety measure.

The temperature in the freezer should not reach higher than five degrees—zero degrees is best. If your freezer can’t keep (low-fat!) ice cream rock-solid, then the temperature is too high.

To protect food from freezer burn, use freezer wrap, freezer bags, aluminum foil or other moisture-proof packaging to rewrap meat and poultry packages. Use a permanent marker to date food with an expiration date or the date you froze it. Try to use frozen foods within six months.

Article copyright © 2014 American Heart Association. This recipe is brought to you by the American Heart Association's Simple Cooking with Heart © Program. For more articles and simple, quick and affordable recipes, visit