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Inexpensive Cleaners Sanitize Kitchen Surfaces

Watch a video about cleaning and sanitizing kitchen surfaces.

Consumers can take steps to protect themselves and their families by cleaning and sanitizing kitchen surfaces regularly, said Lydia Medeiros, food safety specialist for Ohio State University Extension.

Medeiros, working with colleagues at Colorado State University, recently examined the effectiveness of common, inexpensive household products against three major food-borne pathogens: E. coli, Listeria monocytogenes, and Salmonella. While commercial sanitizers are available, their relative high cost sometimes prevents consumers from buying and using them.

“We found you can make your own sanitizer at home for a much cheaper price,” Medeiros said. Sanitizers should be used periodically on countertops, cutting boards, dishes, utensils, pots and pans to minimize the threat of bacteria that cause food-borne illness.

The researchers tested the effectiveness of chlorine bleach, hydrogen peroxide, vinegar and baking soda. Their findings:

  • A scant teaspoon of chlorine bleach in one quart of water was effective at killing 99.999 percent of all three types of bacteria when left on the surface being sanitized for just one minute. The researchers used regular chlorine bleach. They warn against using bleach with added fragrance — it’s not food-safe. “This is a very, very effective sanitizer,” Medeiros said of the mixture. “Not many things will kill E. coli at room temperature, and this did.”
  • Undiluted hydrogen peroxide or white distilled vinegar also were effective against all three pathogens after one minute, but only when the sanitizers were warmed to 150 degrees F and used while still at or above 130 degrees F. But never mix the two. Combining hydrogen peroxide and vinegar can be dangerous.
  • At room temperature, hydrogen peroxide was effective against only E. coli and Salmonella, and only when left on surfaces for 10 minutes. It did not effectively sanitize surfaces contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.
  • At room temperature, white distilled vinegar was effective against only Salmonella bacteria, and only when left on surfaces for 10 minutes.
  • Baking soda was not an effective sanitizer even after 10 minutes of contact time.

    Medeiros said that to be effective, sanitizers must used properly. Guidelines include:

  1. First, clean surfaces with soap and warm water, then rinse and allow the surface to air dry, or dry it by hand with a clean paper towel. Contact with any type of organic matter or with detergent makes sanitizers ineffective.
  2. Allow the sanitizer to work for the recommended period of time.
  3. Allow the sanitizer to air dry or dry it with another clean paper towel.
  4. Consumers who use the chlorine bleach solution should make a new batch each week and store it in a dark place. Chlorine’s effectiveness dissipates over time, especially when exposed to light.

There’s no hard-and-fast rule on how often to sanitize countertops and other kitchen surfaces, Medeiros said. Households with members who are very young (under the age of 5), elderly, pregnant or who have chronic illness, as well as households with pets, are at higher risk for food-borne illness and should consider sanitizing surfaces at every meal or daily. Others may feel comfortable sanitizing less often.

A new four-page fact sheet with additional details on sanitizing kitchen surfaces properly is online on Ohio State’s Food Safety website.

The original research in testing the products’ effectiveness against the food-borne pathogens was published in the Journal of Food Protection in June 2009.