How to make your kitchen a germ-free zone

Babies and young children are particularly vulnerable to stomach upsets and other bugs, so follow our guide to keeping germs out of your kitchen

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Did you know your dishcloth is probably one of the most contaminated items in your home? A recent study showed that 134,000 bacteria could be lurking on every square inch! The following practical pointers will help keep your kitchen a germ-free zone.

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Wash your hands

Clean hands are essential to prevent the spread of germs. Wash thoroughly with hot, soapy water before touching food and also after handling raw meat, going to the toilet, touching the bin and stroking pets. Encourage your child to do the same. Make sure you dry your hands well; moisture makes the spread of germs more likely. Antibacterial gels are great at killing bacteria but as soon as your clean hands touch something else, you aren’t protected anymore. You might want to consider removing your rings too before handling food.

Change kitchen cloths

Use different cloths for different jobs, such as washing up and wiping surfaces. Dirty damp cloths are a breeding ground for bacteria, so wash them regularly or use disposable cloths and replace them often. The same applies to tea towels.

Disinfect surfaces

Regularly disinfect not just your kitchen counters, but anything that you frequently touch with your hands, such as cupboard handles and light switches. An antibacterial cleaner is ideal. If you use bleach, make sure you dilute the solution first. Always keep pets off work surfaces.

Observe safe food prep rules

Germs love hiding in small crevices such as the knife indentations on your chopping board. Wash and disinfect chopping boards with a food-safe antibacterial spray after every use. Plastic boards are healthier than wooden ones, and it’s wise to use different boards for different food types, such as meat and non-meat foods, to avoid cross-contamination. After using a knife on raw meat, wash it thoroughly before using it again.

Take extra care when you’re ill

Avoid preparing food for the family if you have a stomach bug. If you have no option, observe the hand washing rules and wear disposable gloves to avoid passing on germs. Use a tissue to cover your mouth and nose if you need to cough or sneeze, then throw it away and wash your hands again before resuming food prep.

Wash up well

Dishwashers are generally regarded as more hygienic than washing by hand because they wash at higher temperatures. If you’re stuck with the sink then scrape or rinse off as much food as you can. Then use hot, soapy water and start washing the cleanest items first. Check there are no traces of food stuck in nooks and crannies. Wash baby bottles separately and always use a small bottle brush to remove every trace of dried milk.

Keep the fridge and freezer at the right temperature

Your fridge should be between 0–5 deg C and your freezer lower than -18 deg C. Keep thermometers in both, make sure the doors are always properly closed, and don’t overfill them as this can obstruct the cool airflow.

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Store food safely

Check food labels for storage advice. Keep raw or defrosting food – particularly meat – in airtight containers at the bottom of the fridge to prevent juices from dripping onto other items. If you’re batch cooking and want to freeze the excess, cool the food to room temperature, ideally within one to two hours, before putting it in the fridge or freezer – any longer and bacteria will begin to breed. Don’t put food in the fridge or freezer while it’s still warm, as this will raise the internal temperature. Divide food into smaller portions to speed up the cooling process.

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