Kitchen hygiene is one of the essential skills every home cook should learn. Knowing how to keep your cookware, cutware, and eatware clean is necessary to keep your family and occasional guests at home safe from foodborne illness.
When it comes to poultry, kitchen hygiene becomes even more critical. Raw poultry is often contaminated with Campylobacter, Salmonella, and Clostridium perfringens bacteria. Each of these bacteria can infect humans and cause a variety of health issues.
Kitchen Hygiene Basics for Cutting Raw Chicken
If you’re cooking chicken, here are two essential kitchen hygiene rules to follow:
- Don’t cut raw chicken on the same cutting board as other ingredients without cleaning it thoroughly between uses;
- Don’t use the same knife you used to cut the raw chicken for anything else before cleaning it.
One question that home cooks often ask is, “What’s the best way to clean my knife after cutting raw chicken?” I spent this morning doing diligent research on the topic. Here’s what you need to know.
The best way to clean a knife after cutting raw chicken is to wash it by hand in soapy water and, after, soak it in a solution of 1 quart water and 1 tablespoon household bleach. Cleaning the knife by hand will wash away any leftover pieces, and the bleach will kill any bacteria. After soaking the knife, rinse it under clear water and wipe it dry.
Contrary to popular belief and despite what most marketers write on the label, dish soap isn’t a sanitizer. “It’s not intended to kill microorganisms,” says food safety specialist Claudia Narvaez in an interview for CTVNews. “It will kill some bacteria, but not the ones that are more resistant to environmental conditions, like salmonella or E. coli.”
You’re not using dish soap to kill bacteria but to remove the microscopic bits and pieces of chicken and fat stuck to the knife’s surface. Dish soap acts as a degreaser that helps you clean these food particles off the blade’s cutting surface. If you don’t remove them, the knife will turn into a breeding ground for bacteria.
Sanitize Your Knife With Diluted Bleach
On the other hand, bleach kills off 99% of bacteria, which is why using a diluted bleach solution to clean your cookware and cutware at home is so useful for sanitization. Sodium hypochlorite, the active ingredient in bleach, kills Campylobacter, Salmonella, and Clostridium perfringens bacteria, all of which are what makes raw poultry potentially harmful for humans.
So the next time you cut raw chicken, do this: clean your knife in soapy water to wash away the raw meat particles, then disinfect it by briefly soaking it in or swiping the blade with diluted bleach (1 quart water, 1 teaspoon bleach). This cleaning technique guarantees that your knife is clean and safe to use immediately after.
How much time does “briefly” mean, exactly? Most people recommend 1 minute, which seems like sound advice to me.
Whether you’re soaking the knife or swiping the blade with a diluted bleach solution, let it soak or let the solution rest for 60 seconds before rinsing. This should give the active ingredient in bleach sufficient time to kill off any bacteria.
Will Bleach Damage My Knife?
Some die-hard knife users advise against using bleach to disinfect your knife. I’ve used bleach solutions for cleaning my blades for years—and I haven’t seen any noticeable deterioration on them. Nevertheless, there seems to be sound science behind not using diluted bleach on stainless steel cutware.
According to a study cited by R&D World, bleach diluted to 1:10 and 1:50 can cause corrosion on stainless steel. This is why some metallurgists recommend sanitizing stainless steel cutware with alternatives to diluted bleach, such as sodium dichloroisocyanurate or quaternary ammonium.
The magazine recommends using Sodium dichloroisocyanurate (NaDCC) instead. If you are worried about your knives and are looking for an alternative to bleach, the problem is that NaDCC cleaners are surprisingly hard to find for domestic use.
Instead, you can use quaternary ammonium cleaners. Quaternary ammonium kills 99% of germs and eliminates odors, just like bleach (and this is scientifically proven). The difference is that it’s less harmful to stainless steel surfaces and will, in theory, be gentler to your knife.
Many restaurants have gone to using quaternary ammonium cleaners instead of bleach solutions for disinfecting their cookware and cutware in recent years.
Perhaps the most significant advantage I see for quaternary ammonium cleaners is that you can buy one in the form of a spray—and forget about diluting it all together.
Can’t I Just Use Soapy Water?
It depends on what you achieve.
If you simply want to clean a knife but not sanitize it, soapy water will do just fine. If your goal is to kill any leftover bacteria on the blade, warm water won’t help.
According to the U.S. National Sanitation Foundation, to sanitize a surface, you should wash it with water at a temperature of no less than 190°F (88°C).
Most home water heaters produce water at a temperature of 104°F (~40°C) to 120°F (~49°C), which means that running water is generally not hot enough to sanitize a knife.
Suppose you only have dish soap and running water at your disposal. In that case, the best way to disinfect your knife is to heat water in your electric kettle (or bring it to a boil in a pot on the stovetop), pour it into a bowl or container big enough to let the knife rest, and submerge it in the water for 2-3 minutes.
This technique is not as effective as running the blade with a bleach solution or quaternary ammonium sanitizer. It will still provide an extra layer of sanitization compared to cleaning the knife in soapy water alone.
The Bottom Line
There’s more than one way to clean a knife after cutting raw chicken. At a minimum, wash it by hand with soapy water and warm water in the sink.
The best way to sanitize a knife after cleaning is by using diluted bleach or quaternary ammonium. Make homemade sanitizer by mixing 1 quart water with 1 tablespoon bleach, or buy some quaternary ammonium sanitizer for your home.
No matter which of the two you prefer, remember to clean and sanitize your knife every time you cut raw chicken. Poultry carries many harmful bacteria that can cause foodborne illness—and, if you’re not careful, you can easily cause cross-contamination at home.
Which option did you use, and how did it work out for you? Do you have any tips of your own that you’d like to share with other readers?
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