Food Safety in the Time of COVID-19: Safe use of sanitizers or disinfectants

When used correctly, chemical sanitizers and disinfectants can be important in helping to fight disease. Chemicals must pass certain tests to be classified as either a sanitizer or a disinfectant, or both! Sanitizers reduce the number of bacteria by 99.99% in one test.  Disinfectants are shown to be effective against 99.99% of bacteria in multiple tests. Disinfectants that work in hospital settings are labeled as hospital-grade disinfectants. Sanitizers and disinfectants should never be taken internally; always read and follow label directions.

What are typical sanitizers that we might use in our homes? The most commonly used chemical sanitizing and disinfecting agent is sodium hypochlorite (chlorine bleach). Bleach can be used to sanitize or disinfect, depending on the concentration used and how it is applied.

What is the best way to use bleach to sanitize the kitchen? Follow these steps:

  1. Clean kitchen countertops, pots and pans and utensils with warm water and soap to remove germs, dirt, and food debris. Cleaning does not kill germs, cleaning removes germs and lowers the risk of spreading infection. Clean dishes, pots and pans, and utensils and other surfaces. A good physical cleaning that moves dirt and debris off surfaces is best. Scrub away!
  2. Using warm water, rinse away debris and rinse off soapy water, leaving behind a surface that is clean.
  3. After cleaning, sanitize surfaces as an extra precaution to kill germs that might remain using a dilute bleach solution. The following proportions apply to standard, unscented bleach (any concentration)
    • 2/3 teaspoon bleach per quart (4 cups) of water
    • 2 1/2 teaspoons bleach per gallon of water

Prepare bleach solution and spray or wipe onto cleaned surface. \\  Allow bleach solution to remain on clean surfaces for 1 minute. \\ Wipe dry or (even better) allow to air dry. The chemicals will evaporate, leaving behind a disinfectedsurface.  Use these proportions for any common, unscented household bleach containing 5.25 – 8.50% sodium hypochlorite. If stored in a closed container like a spray bottle, this solution will last for at least a week. Refresh each week as you deep-clean your kitchen.

The CDC recommends additional procedures for cleaning and disinfecting in a home where a person has a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19.

  • Wear disposable gloves when cleaning and sanitizing. Gloves should be discarded after each cleaning. If reusable gloves are used, those gloves should be dedicated for cleaning and disinfection of surfaces for COVID-19 and not used for any other purpose. Wash hands immediately after gloves are removed.
  • Wash surfaces with soap and water. Always do this prior to disinfection.
  • Disinfect with a strong bleach solution, a 70% alcohol solution, or EPA-registered household disinfectant (follow label directions).
    • Preparing a strong bleach solution for home-care settings (bathrooms, sick rooms, etc):
      • 5 Tablespoons (1/3 cup) bleach per gallon of  water
      • 4 teaspoons bleach per quart of water
    • Allow to air dry.

If this strong bleach solutions is used in the kitchen, be sure to rinse countertops, utensils, pots and pans, utensils and any other food contact surface with clean water after disinfecting (it is not necessary to rinse bathroom surfaces).

What about other household products? There are many other approved standard household products – if you use these just be sure to follow label instructions.  Labels contain instructions for safe and effective use of the cleaning product including precautions you should take when applying the product, such as wearing gloves and making sure you have good ventilation during use of the product. More information here from the CDC. Stay food-safe and well, Barb