In many homes, the kitchen is the most important room. Families gather to cook and eat together, kids do homework, and family life flows around the heart of the home. It's important to keep your kitchen clean so your family can stay healthy. Here are eight tips to have a germ-free kitchen.

1. Avoid cross contamination

Basic food safety is important, even in a home kitchen. When prepping raw meat, use one knife and cutting board, and then disinfect the counter and clean your tools immediately. Clean as you cook to help avoid any contamination of food due to spills and re-using dirty utensils. Be sure to wash your hands often, particularly after handing raw meat and eggs.

2. Refrigerator rules

In the fridge, store meat, eggs and dairy products away from fruits and vegetables. Keep raw meats contained and separate from other foods. Watch the temperature of your fridge and freezer. The FDA recommends your fridge should be 40 degrees or below and the freezer should be at 0 degrees. Clean your fridge regularly to disinfect from food germs and get rid of foods that have spoiled.

3. Keep hot foods hot

Do you know the minimum temperature requirements for safely cooking meat? Different meats require different cooking temperatures, so learn to use a thermometer. After food has been cooked, it should be eaten immediately and then safely stored. Don't leave hot food out for too long, or bacteria begins to grow. Risk of food poisoning grows the longer food is left out.

4. Keep cold foods cold

Remember the refrigerator rules? Cold foods need to be kept cold to be safe. Consider using a tub of ice if you have salads or other cold food items out on a buffet. Bacteria can multiply quickly, so if in doubt, throw food out.

5. Beware of dirty rags and sponges

Wiping kitchen surfaces down is important, but you want to avoid spreading germs around. I use a fresh cloth every day, and even change it out during the day if I've used it to wipe up raw meat juice or raw egg. You can disinfect sponges in the microwave or the dishwasher; be sure to do so daily. I like to use a disinfectant spray in the kitchen after I've worked with foods that can contaminate. There are plant-based ones with fewer chemicals if you are concerned about chemicals in your kitchen.

6. Is there a 5-second rule?

Well, that might depend on how often you clean your floor! The kitchen floor needs to be mopped at least once a week. I generally throw away food that has touched the floor. E coli, a dangerous bacteria, can be transferred to food as soon as it hits a surface. Of course, small children often eat food off of the floor, as do pets, and most are perfectly fine.

7. Rotate food supply

Knowing the "sell by" and "best buy" dates on your food is important. It is easy to tell when dairy products have gone bad; milk smells off and cheese develops mold. Unfortunately, some spoiled food is safe to eat, while other seemingly fine food can make you very sick. Storing food properly and rotating your food supply should help you stay healthy.

Don't forget to go through your pantry items as well. Some nuts don't last more than a few months, and canned goods can develop botulism. Be aware of cans that are dented or bulging. These signs might indicate the food has spoiled.

8. Consider a food safety course

A recent job I had required me to have a current food handler's permit. Since it had been several years since I last had one, I found the course very informative and helpful. Now that I know the rules and guidelines for food safely, I feel much more confident in keeping my kitchen clean and my family safe. The course and test for my state was online and very inexpensive. If you're concerned about food safety and want to know more, consider looking for a course in your county or state.

Keeping your family safe and healthy is a top priority. Having a germ-free kitchen will help you do just that. The kitchen is the heart of the home. Make sure it's a safe place for everyone.

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