Foodborne diseases cost the United States an estimated $152 billion each year in health-related expenses, according to a study from the Food Safety Campaign at the Pew Charitable Trusts. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports an estimated 76 million Americans are sickened by contaminated food every year and 5,000 of these people die. Can a simple procedure involving a jug of chlorine bleach, a measuring spoon and some tap water make a dent in those statistics? A public health partnership of the National Environmental Health Association, the Water Quality and Health Council and the American Chemistry Council thinks so.
The group has developed two new free, user-friendly resources on disinfecting food-contact surfaces, such as countertops and utensils. The resources are for people who handle and prepare food–that includes most of us. The Safe Food Depends on a Clean Kitchen poster series was designed for restaurant and institutional kitchens. The poster displays simple, stepwise directions, available in both English and Spanish, to instruct kitchen staff on the proper ways to disinfect the food prep area as well as items in the sink bay. For households, a free, colorful refrigerator magnet urges “Deal Kitchen Germs a 1-2 Punch.”
As an infection preventionist, I want to spread the word that killing foodborne germs on surfaces is a two-step process: cleaning is the first step; disinfection is the second step. These are distinctly different steps with different goals. First, wash surfaces with hot, soapy water and rinse. This is to remove dirt or food that would interfere with the disinfectant. The second step is disinfection, which is ‘killing germs.’ This is accomplished by applying a solution of one tablespoon of bleach in one gallon of water to food preparation surfaces.
Does the order of the steps matter? Absolutely. Bleach works on organic debris; that is anything that is living or came from living things. If you use the bleach first, the disinfecting properties of the bleach will be consumed by the dirt, leaving none to unleash its power against the invisible enemy, germs. Bleach solutions break down over time, so solutions should be re-made by each restaurant kitchen shift or, in the case of the consumer, daily. Bleach and ammonia-containing products should never be combined.
The resources are featured on the Water Quality and Health Council’s new “Disinfect for Health” webpage (www.disinfect-for-health.org). Posters are freely downloadable and magnets may be ordered online (one free magnet per person).
(Barbara M. Soule, R.N. MPA, CIC, is an Infection Preventionist and a member of the Water Quality & Health Council.)