Hygiene in the kitchen is always important, and in extraordinary moments such as the coronavirus crisis we are experiencing, it is absolutely essential. The way we store food, cook it or even transport it can have an effect. How we clean our kitchen, with what products and what materials is also something to consider.
We talked to microbiologist Maite Pelayo, an expert in food safety from the Silestone Institute, about what good hygiene habits we should adopt in the kitchen and which factors and behaviours involve more risks to our health, especially at vulnerable times.
The process begins from the moment we go shopping, as "we choose where to buy and what products to take with us". These, explains the professional, must always be well stored, packaged and labelled. A very common mistake is, once we get home, to put the bags on the counter, something we must be very careful with. "We should always put them on the kitchen floor, because they have been on the floor of the supermarket or in the trunk of the car, so the bag may have been contaminated," says Maite Pelayo, who warns that this type of action is "unhygienic" because if we contaminate a surface such as the countertop and then put the food on top without first disinfecting it "we will be incurring cross-contamination”. She also explains that once we put each food in its place we should sanitize the bag: we should wash it in the washing machine and dry it well.
Clean and disinfect our kitchen
It is important to differentiate between cleaning and disinfection. The first would be to remove dirt, food and grease from a kitchen and which can function as a support for the growth of certain microorganisms. Disinfection is the next step, in which these possible microorganisms that can harm us are eliminated. "One thing without the other doesn't make sense, they will always go together", says the microbiologist who adds that the cleaning products we use to clean the kitchen fulfil both functions.
Good kitchen hygiene (surface, containers, appliances, utensils...) is a tool to protect against any infection, something that should always be taken into account and which is essential right now. The first thing that the professional explains is that kitchen cleaners, general cleaners, detergent or soap somehow "break down the fats and also attack possible microorganisms that are present on those surfaces because it breaks down those barriers that they have of protection", so we do not need anything extraordinary to maintain safety in our kitchen.
He also explains the importance of choosing the right materials for kitchen countertops and utensils, since wood, for example, because it is porous or easily scratched, somehow creates "those habitats where microorganisms can grow and where cleaners can't reach”.
Warm water and rest
When it comes to cleaning the worktop, the food safety expert recommends the following process: firstly, we must remove the dirt, food remains and grease; then, with warm water, use a cleaner and rub; do not remove it immediately but leave it for one or two minutes; when it takes effect, rinse with warm water and, finally, dry the surface. "If we leave humidity, those possible microorganisms will have a good environment to reproduce again. The final step is important," she says.
Sanitizing the tools we use to clean and disinfect is also critical. Although paper is the safest option, it is also the most polluting, so a balance needs to be found. Maite Pelayo says that during a cooking session "we can use the same cloth and rinse and clean as we go along with soap and water". She explains that the rags, which we use for cleaning surfaces and also hands, are a source of cross-contamination, that is, between foods that were already sanitized because they were already cooked and those that were not. "We have to be careful and replace these rags in every cooking session. Washing in a washing machine is totally effective," she says.
Separate storage in the refrigerator
In the case of the cloths and scourers we must bear in mind that they are tools that clean, but that they have a load of microorganisms that little by little are added. "Studies say they need to be cleaned frequently and replaced every week," says the professional.
Finally, it's important to clean the refrigerator regularly and keep it at the right temperature, since food needs to be kept at a certain temperature to be preserved. "When placing them, it is important that they do not come into contact with raw and cooked foods, as cross-contamination can occur," explains the microbiologist who recommends placing cooked foods on top and raw foods on the bottom, to avoid, in the event of leaks, contamination of the cooked food. She also explains that we should keep all containers closed, and store them in such a way that old products are more visible for earlier consumption.