It’s safe to say the kitchen is a popular room. It’s a hub of activity in most homes. For these reasons and others, a room of such importance requires serious discipline when it comes to cleanliness and safety. Putting some extra time and thought into your goings-on about the kitchen can protect your family from accidents, injuries and illness.
Although injury is a reality in the kitchen, and accidents will happen, there are ways to minimize your risk. Gabriel Ross, professional chef and instructor at the Culinary Institute of America in New York, teaches students specifically about maintaining a safe kitchen. Whether it involves food handling, hygiene or equipment-usage, Ross ensures his students are prepared in creating a safe environment for themselves and those around them.
“We teach our students to drive defensively in the kitchen,” Ross says. “Identify the hazard and eliminate the risk.”
Although Ross’ lessons revolve around the commercial kitchen, a lot can relate to your version at home. The concept of “Mis en Place,” which is well known throughout the industry, can apply to chefs of any caliber. The French term translates as “things in place” and serves as a reminder to practice organization, develop a plan, and work quickly and efficiently. Practicing this can be as simple as designating specific places for utensils and equipment, or arranging ingredients before you start cooking.
“It’s more about personal safety,” Ross says. “Don’t read a recipe for the first time as you’re already chopping onions. That’s when accidents happen.”
Neglecting knives is a safety hazard, as well. Ross explains that although a sharp knife can be scary to use, a sharp knife is a safe knife. Dull knives require more effort and pressure while slicing and dicing, increasing the opportunity for accidents.
Foodborne illness should be a concern in any kitchen. A common misconception is that some food items are innately pathogen-prone, and while that might be true in a few cases, the cliché that you “ate a bad clam” doesn’t stand up when the vast majority of illness really has to do with preparation, Ross says.
A 2016 Food and Drug Administration survey found a decrease in rates of hand-washing before preparing food. Ross stresses washing hands and surfaces constantly — before, during and after prep — to keep foodborne pathogens at bay. It’s also important to use different cutting boards and utensils for raw meat, poultry or seafood and to keep food refrigerated until it’s time to cook. And, of course don’t cook if you’re ill.
“Spending more time scrubbing your hands with soap under hot, hot water is a good idea for anybody,” Ross says. “Especially with the holidays here bringing a lot of people and germs together.”
Practices to keep yourself and your family safe should have a place in every kitchen, and you don’t need to be a professional to ensure your kitchen runs smoothly. It takes just a little extra time and effort to keep your space clean, organized and accident-free.
By the Numbers
Number of people in the United States who are stricken with foodborne illnesses each year. That’s about one in every six people. Of those sickened, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die.
Average number of fires caused by home-cooking equipment per year between 2009 and 2013. Half of these were caused by equipment left unattended.
Number of bacteria hiding in your sponge or dishcloth.
Number of people that visit emergency rooms each year because of scalding injuries.
Number of known diseases transmitted by food.
Number of seconds for which you should wash your hands.
Sanitize that Sponge
To help you avoid spreading germs in your kitchen, we found the three best ways to keep your sponge squeaky clean. Find your favorite and do it often.
Dishwasher: Throw sponge in with regular dishwasher load, using the“heated dry” setting.
Microwave: Saturate sponge and microwave on “high” alongside one-half cup of water for one to two minutes.
Bleach: Combine three-quarters cup of bleach with a gallon of hot water. Soak sponge for five to 10 minutes.
Q&A: Order in the Kitchen
We could all use some improvement when it comes to kitchen organization, so why not ask an expert? Abbey Keusch answered the call to professional organizing several years ago when she found the National Associate of Professional Organizers online. Her business, Abbey Claire Organizing, focuses on residential homes and home offices in Pasadena, Calif. Some of her work includes organizing, de-cluttering, and packing for or unpacking after a move. Keusch knows a thing or two about bettering a kitchen and has the tips to prove it.
What’s the most common kitchen mishap?
“When people move into a kitchen, they want to put everything away without realizing that it might take a little bit more thought. They haven’t taken the time to think about how they’ll move around the kitchen, what they’ll use on a regular basis, what the flow of the room will look like. Take a minute to step back and figure out, even as far as saying, ‘Am I left handed or right handed? Where am I more likely to reach for the knives?’ and putting it on that side.”
What are some rules of thumb when organizing cabinets?
“I tell my clients to think of the things you’re going to use together and store them where you’ll use them: Dishes by sink or dishwasher, heavier items down below, a few most-used items on the counter or in the front of the cabinet so you can get at them, and put them away, quickly.”
How should you tackle refrigerator organization?
“On the lowest shelf, I have people put the biggest heaviest items: A carton of milk or bottles of juice. The higher the shelf, the smaller the item, and put like-items together. Place condiments on the door shelves. Use one drawer for produce, and another for cheese and other small items, or loose items you don’t want rolling around. And if your kids are old enough, keep that wine out of reach.”
Where should you store cleaning products?
“Store them under the sink, generally. But make sure nothing’s leaking, you don’t want mold. Get a plastic basket, or a caddy, so you can pull the whole thing out at once. If you’re baby proofing, get child locks or make sure cleaning products are out of reach.”
What are your go-to cleaning products?
“I use Lysol wipes a lot, especially for wiping down cabinets. I like biodegradable, environmentally friendly products, too. Another good option is to get a spray bottle filled with water and vinegar or a little bit of bleach. Those are cheap, easy and kill the germs.”
What are easy kitchen habits you can start today?
“Take five minutes to go through cabinets and pantries to revisit what’s there. Start storing things in categories so that like things are together. Clean up spills and organize food in the fridge to get rid of stuff that’s expired or spoiled.”
And the age-old question: Is it safe to use the oven as storage?
“No. Well, only for a few pots and pans. I would never put anything else besides ovenproof materials in there. You don’t want to be woken up in the middle of the night wondering did your books in the oven catch fire. But I’ve worked in small kitchens, and sometimes that’s the only extra space you have. So if you need to, just cookware."