Counter space is almost always at a premium for the home cook and during meal preparation, it can seem to get smaller and smaller. That's why many of us use a kitchen table or island to prep food before cooking. But how can you be sure that the food prep table is properly sanitized before and after preparing meat and vegetables?
Unless you have opted for an industrial look in your kitchen with all stainless steel surfaces like a professional kitchen, food prep tables can be wood, other metals like copper or aluminum, stone, ceramic tile, or plastic laminate. We'll cover each one and help you protect your family from foodborne illness with just a few products.
Before You Begin
As you know, a food prep surface can look clean but still be teeming with bacteria and viruses. So, it's important to understand the differences between cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting kitchen surfaces.
- Cleaning: The process of removing visible debris and dirt. Cleaning may or may not kill bacteria and germs, but it will dilute their numbers and aid in lowering the risk of spreading harmful microbes.
- Sanitizing: Sanitizing refers to reducing, but not killing completely, the number and growth of bacteria, viruses, and fungi to safe levels using a chemical agent or hot water between 170-180° F. Chemicals may not be needed because extreme heat—at least 170 degrees F—in a dishwasher or by using a steam cleaner can kill bacteria.
- Disinfecting: The process of killing all microscopic organisms (germs, viruses, fungi) on surfaces. Disinfection is usually achieved by using EPA-approved chemicals that kill the organisms and prevent them from spreading. However, many of the disinfectants are not safe for use around food preparation unless the surfaces is rinsed with fresh water after disinfection.
Many sites recommend sanitizing food prep areas by spraying them with distilled white vinegar. Vinegar is not an EPA-recommended disinfectant, however, the acetic acid in vinegar does break apart soil and has some disinfectant qualities by changing the structure of germ cells.
If you choose to use vinegar, select Cleaning Strength White Distilled Vinegar that contains six percent acetic acid rather than another lower acid vinegar. Be aware that vinegar can damage marble and some unsealed stone surfaces.
Equipment / Tools
- Microfiber cloths
- Sink or basin
- Steam cleaner
- Paper towel
- Dishwashing liquid
- Wood soap
- Hot water
- Chlorine bleach
- Disinfecting wipes
- Disinfecting sprays
- Distilled white vinegar
- Hydrogen peroxide
How to Sanitize Sealed Wood Food Prep Tables
Use a microfiber cloth or a paper towel to wipe away crumbs and any visible debris on the table.
Mix a Cleaning Solution
Mix a solution of hot water and a few drops of dishwashing liquid in the sink or a basin.
Clean the Table
Saturate a microfiber cloth with the soapy solution and wring until just very damp. Carefully wipe the entire surface of the table. Frequently rinse the cloth in the water and pay particular attention to edges and any crevices.
Use a Disinfectant Product
Once the table has been cleaned, use a disinfectant wipe, spray, or a dilute solution of chlorine bleach and water (1/3 cup concentrated bleach to one gallon of water) to wipe down the surface. Be sure to use enough to leave the surface wet for at least four to 10 minutes.
Air-Dry the Surface
Allow the disinfectant to air-dry on the surface. Do not wipe it away.
Rinse the Table
Once the table has air-dried, if you plan to use it again right away for food preparation, it will need to be rinsed with fresh water. Many disinfecting products, including ones with chlorine bleach, are not safe to use in food preparation areas without an added step of a rinse after disinfecting. Read the labels and follow directions.
While they don't pretend to deep clean surfaces, the one-step disinfectants will kill bacteria like E. coli, salmonella, and staphylococcus aureus on plastic, sealed wood, stone, tile, and laminate prep tables. The product is quick-drying and registered with the EPA.
How to Sanitize Unsealed Wood Prep Tables
Wood that has never been treated with a sealant will harbor bacteria and fungi as food particles and juices seep into the crevices. While you can never disinfect unsealed wood, you can clean and sanitize it to reduce the level of bacteria.
Use a microfiber cloth dampened with water to wipe away visible debris and grime from the wood.
Mix a Cleaning Solution
To clean the surface and dilute the bacterial count, mix a solution of a wood soap (Murphy's Oil Soap, Castile soap) and warm water. Follow the product label directions for dilution.
Wipe and Rinse the Table
Dip a clean microfiber cloth in the soapy solution and wipe down the table. Do not oversaturate the wood. Finish by dipping the cloth in clean water and wipe down the wood to remove any soapy film on the wood.
Sanitize the Table
After the table has dried, spray with distilled white vinegar or 3 percent hydrogen peroxide to help kill microorganisms.
How to Sanitize Metal and Plastic Laminate Food Prep Tables
Whether you have a stainless steel, aluminum, copper, or plastic laminate-topped table, they can all be sanitized following the same steps.
Remove Debris and Wipe Down
Disinfectants will work much better after the table is cleaned. Use a microfiber cloth to remove any visible crumbs or pieces of food. Mix a solution of dishwashing liquid and hot water and thoroughly clean the surface. Rinse the cloth out frequently and be sure to remove any sticky, greasy smears on the surface.
Finish the cleaning step by wiping down with a clean microfiber cloth dipped in fresh water.
Disinfect the Surface
Use a solution of chlorine bleach and water on plastic laminate and stainless steel only (it can discolor other metals), commercial disinfectant spray or wipe, or hydrogen peroxide to sanitize or disinfect the surface. Be sure to use enough spray or wipes so that the surface remains wet for at least four to 10 minutes.
One disinfectant wipe will successfully disinfect about three square feet. Do not attempt to disinfect a large prep table with just one wipe.
Air-Dry and Rinse
Allow the disinfectant solution to air-dry on the surface. If you have not used a disinfectant that is approved for food-use, once the surface is dry, rinse with a clean cloth dipped in fresh water.
How to Sanitize Stone and Ceramic Tile Food Prep Tables
Ceramic tile and stone-topped tables are durable and easy to clean if the stone has been sealed. But even stone that has been sealed can be etched by strong acids used for food preparation like citrus juice, vinegar, and wine and by harsh chemicals like full-strength chlorine bleach and ammonia.
To make cleaning easier, follow the manufacturer's guidelines for resealing stone tops after several years of normal wear and tear.
Remove Debris and Clean With Soap and Water
Always begin by removing any visible pieces of food and then clean the table surface with a microfiber cloth dipped in a solution of hot water and a few drops of dishwashing liquid.
Sanitize and Disinfect
Use a commercial disinfectant spray or wipe that states on the product label that it is safe for stone and ceramic tile surfaces. Use enough of the product so that the surface stays wet for at least four to 10 minutes. Vinegar and chlorine bleach are not suitable for stone because they can etch the surface.
However, a chlorine bleach and water solution can be safely used to clean ceramic tile prep tables and the grout between the tiles.
Air-Dry and Rinse
Allow the surface to air-dry and then rinse with a microfiber cloth dipped in clean water unless you have used a disinfectant that is labeled as food-safe.