Avoid Salmonella Contamination in the Kitchen

Some people mistakenly believe that buying organic or sustainably raised chicken or poultry means they don’t have to worry about Salmonella. Following proper kitchen protocol when handling poultry can help you reduce the risk of food poisoning.

Every year, a million people in the US are sickened by Salmonella. Nineteen thousand of them end up in hospital and 380 of them die, according to the CDC.  It’s tempting to think that organic, small local farms are free from Salmonella, but that’s a dangerous misconception.

Heat kills Salmonella, and everyone knows not to eat undercooked chicken and turkey. However, one of the greatest dangers is not in the chicken itself, but in cross contamination in your kitchen. Handling raw poultry without the proper hygiene protocols can lead to contaminating just about everything in your kitchen: counters, utensils, cutting boards, faucet handles, towels and sponges. Even if you cook your chicken perfectly, you can still get Salmonella poisoning if you’ve contaminated counters, utensils, cutting boards and towels. Here are some suggestions to keep your kitchen Salmonella free.

Plan your kitchen prep

When handling raw poultry, plan on doing all your preparation from start to finish without switching to other tasks. For instance, plan to cut or season your bird and get it into the pan it will be cooked in all in one go. That way you can completely clean contaminated items such as knives, cutting boards and kitchen counters before moving on to prepping other food, especially food that will be served raw, such as salads, or lightly cooked. This makes it less likely that you will spread Salmonella onto other foods and makes it easier to keep track of contaminated surfaces, utensils and towels.

Wash your hands

Wash your hands thoroughly every time you touch raw poultry. To do this, run your hands under hot water, add soap and scrub for at least 20 seconds before rinsing. Bacteria are not killed “on contact” by soap and hot water, it takes at least 20 seconds for that to happen. You’d be surprised how long 20 seconds is compared with the amount of time you’d normally wash your hands.

Keep a nail scrubber by the kitchen sink to clean under your nails with soap as well. Be sure to throw your nail scrubber into the dishwasher at the end of your food prep, lest it become infested with bacteria.

Be careful about touching the faucet handle with contaminated hands.

If you have very sensitive skin or a skin condition that makes it difficult to wash your hands in this way, wear food prep gloves.

Clean counters and sink

When you are finished handling and prepping your poultry, clean your counter tops thoroughly. Put a bit of dish soap on a sponge and scrub your counter top, spray it with vinegar or hydrogen peroxide, leave it for a minute and then wipe it down with a clean wet cloth. You don’t need special antibacterial cleaners or bleach.

Also clean your sink, any plastic wash tubs you may have used, and the soap dispenser pump if you use liquid soap.

Clean cutting boards and utensils

Scrub utensils and cutting boards with dish soap and hot water, and run them through the dishwasher. If you have good knives, you will never put those in a dishwasher, so instead, let them sit in hot soapy water before washing them by hand. You need to give the soap and hot water a bit of time to kill off all the bacteria.

Clean sponges and kitchen towels

Sponges are so convenient in the kitchen, but if you were to look at yours under a microscope, you’d feel very differently. All those porous, damp spaces make it a breeding ground for bacteria. After you’ve used your sponge to clean all your utensils and cutting boards, you will need to sanitize it. One way is to run it through the microwave for a minute. Another is to soak it in boiling water and vinegar or run it through the dishwasher. This must be done at the end of each cooking session.

Another vector for contamination is kitchen towels. Have one kitchen towel that you use during your raw poultry prep and get a fresh one thereafter. At the end of each day, all sponges, cleaning cloths and kitchen towels need to be thrown into the hamper.

Hands-free trash can

In terms of hygiene, you should think of your kitchen a bit like a hospital. No one wants to lift the lid of a hospital trash can with their hands, and neither should you being doing so in the kitchen. Invest in a hands-free kitchen trash bin.

Please use the sharing buttons to share this with people you care about, and if you have kids, teach them from the very start how to handle poultry safely. Explain how to do each step and why, and good kitchen hygiene will become second nature to them.