I recently read an article from MSU Extension about using a “clean break” when harvesting and preparing produce for market. You can read it at www.canr.msu.edu/news/clean-breaks-and-lot-sizes.
Briefly, the article says the grower should rinse off loose dirt from any surface that will hold produce, then wash the surface with soap and water, then rinse off all the soap and water, and finally sanitize the surface. All of this is done prior to placing any produce on the surface. This preparation creates a clean break which is documented by the grower to provide traceability if there is a problem, such as people getting sick, that could lead to a recall.
I started thinking about what happens in my kitchen. I empty the bags from the grocery store onto my counter. That means the bottoms of the grocery bag, boxes and cans, plastic bags and containers with the produce, and some produce have touched the counter. There is certainly some transfer of whatever my groceries and counters have come in contact with.
Should I be rinsing off cans before they go into the pantry? I certainly can’t rinse off cardboard boxes. If I put a less-than-clean plastic bag or container of lettuce or carrots in the crisper drawer, might people become sick?
There are some fresh foods we are told not to clean before refrigerating them, like soft berries. Should I be putting the unwashed food into a container I have washed before putting it in the frig?
If I’m freezing meat, should I just put the wrapped meat in the freezer? Should I wrap the already wrapped meat with another layer? Should I unwrap the meat and then rewrap it in foil, or plastic, or both?
Am I obsessing?
I try to meet myself in the middle. I wash fresh fruit that isn’t berries and put them in a bowl, either in the frig or on the counter. The bowl signifies the fruit is ready to eat. I put berries into another container that I know is clean. I rinse the soil off the vegetables grown in my little backyard garden but the store-bought ones are usually tossed into the crisper drawer as is; my shame. I do clean them well before cooking or serving raw. I always re-wash the “pre-washed, organic lettuce” just because. I wrap the meat still in its original package in more plastic before putting it in the freezer. I open the package of meat I want to freeze in smaller serving sizes and then wrap that in plastic that goes into a freezer bag; maybe a bit overly zealous.
That article made some very good points. So, now I plan to wash out the frig, shelves and drawers and sides, on a more regular basis. And I plan to use baking soda on a clean, damp sponge rather than just a damp sponge to do the cleaning. And I plan to put all the kitchen sponges in the dishwasher every time I run a load of dishes.
The biggest change is how I will treat the counters. They need to be wiped down every time I use them, with a soapy sponge, and then rinsed, thoroughly. Before and after I put fresh food or a cutting board on the counter, I will use a disinfectant. My counters are stone, so I spray the surface with rubbing alcohol diluted with water and then wipe it dry with a clean towel.
And I remember another article, from years ago, that said the underside edge of the counter is seldom, if ever, cleaned and is filthy. Okay, that gets cleaned, too. May we all be comfortable with our compulsions.