How important is kitchen sanitation at home?

What grade would your kitchen receive if a health department inspector suddenly showed up at the door?
What grade would your kitchen receive if a health department inspector suddenly showed up at the door?

As far as local evening news broadcasts go, few segments are as popular (and shocking) as the one in which an intrepid reporter reveals the health department inspection results of area restaurants. That Chinese restaurant down the street where your family eats at least once a month? Mold in the dishwasher and chicken stored at unsafe temperatures. Your favorite Mexican joint? Yep, vermin infestation.

Most people, understandably, gasp in horror at these reports and turn up their noses at any low-scoring establishment. But perhaps even more troubling is this thought: What grade would your kitchen receive if a health department inspector suddenly showed up at the door? You might not be serving crowds of people every day and have the responsibility of public health, but the cleanliness and safety of your kitchen do greatly affect your family's well-being.

You might think your kitchen is perfectly clean, but good kitchen sanitation is about more than appearances. Bacteria just love to live in room-temperature food, so you have to be extremely vigilant about food storage and refrigeration. And speaking of your fridge, do you know what temperature it is -- and what it should be? How often do you clear out not-so-fresh food? Do you know what cross-contamination is and how to avoid it?

Yes, this is a lot to think about -- and it can be a little overwhelming. It's a big responsibility to have your family's health on your hands. But we've made it easy for you. It's really just a matter of concentrating on three things: storage, preparation and cleaning. And even though you'll never be exposed on the evening news for having an unclean kitchen, at least now you'll be able to rest easy if the health department ever does come calling.

Kitchen Sanitation Tips

Kitchen sanitation isn't just about wiping off your counters or washing your hands after you handle raw chicken. If you want to keep everyone in your household clean, healthy and safe (and we think you do), focus your attention on these three main areas and follow these rules.

  • Storage: Your fridge should be kept cooler than 40 degrees Fahrenheit, and the freezer should be at 0 degrees (check the temperature every three months). Go through the refrigerator once a week and toss out anything that's past its prime. Raw meat, poultry, eggs, cooked food or cut produce should never sit out for more than two hours. Defrost food in cold running water or overnight in the refrigerator, never on the counter.
  • Preparation and cooking: When you're preparing food, repeat this mantra: "Clean, separate, cook, chill." You need to not only keep raw meats separate from other foods, but also washed fruits and vegetables separate from unwashed produce -- and you should have different cutting boards for meats and produce.
  • Cleaning: There's really no need for chemical cleaners in the kitchen (and you definitely shouldn't use them in the fridge). Lemon juice and distilled white vinegar can become your best friends for kitchen cleaning: Lemon juice neutralizes odors, vinegar is an amazing disinfectant and sanitizer, and both are great degreasers. A spray bottle of undiluted white vinegar is a handy-dandy multitasker, and a little bleach and water can also go a long way. And don't forget cleaning yourself: Wash, wash, wash your hands -- after handling raw poultry, sneezing, blowing your nose, using the bathroom, petting your dog, the list goes on. Always use warm water and soap and scrub for at least 20 seconds.

These are just the basics, of course -- for more detailed information on kitchen sanitation, feast your eyes on the links on the next page.

Related Articles


  • All Recipes. "Kitchen Sanitation." (July 1, 2012)
  • Arizona Cooperative Extension. "The Latest in Kitchen Sanitation Issues." May 2008. (July 1, 2012)
  • Partnership for Food Safety Education. "FightBAC!" (July 4, 2012)
  • USDA. "Kitchen Companion." (July 4, 2012)