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Keeping Your Food Prep Areas Safe (Part 1)

By: Ann Marie Coppen

Anne Marie Coppen

PhD, FNP, Nurse Practitioner

For a personal response to your health question, Ask Ann Marie at askannmarie@lindora.com. Selected questions will be featured in future columns.

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I previously shared with all of you “How to make good food choices and avoid food poisoning when shopping at the Supermarket.” I now want to share how we can keep our food prep areas – both in your truck cab and home kitchen – safe by taking extra precautions to reduce bacteria and possible food poisoning.

food safetyWant to avoid fever, severe diarrhea, food poisoning, vomiting, and abdominal cramps that can last several days? According to WebMD, all of these symptoms can be prompted by food-borne illnesses caused by food prep area germs. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that every year 48 million people in the United States become ill from germs or disease causing matter in food. Three thousand of the 48 million will die from these disease causing substances.

The following are food prep items, surfaces, and proper hand washing techniques that we need to pay close attention to in order to avoid contamination:

  • Sponges
  • Dish cloths
  • Kitchen / truck cab sinks
  • Countertops
  • Hand washing


food safetySponges are likely the dirtiest items in your truck or home kitchen. Microbiologist Manan Sharma from the United States Department of Agriculture’s Food and Safety Laboratory explains that sponges are so dirty because they come in contact with food residue providing food for microorganisms and bacteria to grow. Having the sponge wet or damp can increase your germ population exponentially.

A study conducted by NSF International survey of U.S. homes found 77% of sponges contaminated by coliform bacteria, 86% contaminated with yeast and mold, 18% contaminated with Staph bacteria.

Things you can do?

  • Microwave your sponge for one to two minutes (make sure the sponge is wet when microwaving). This can be completed at home or when stopping at the truck stops.
  • When home, put your sponge in the dishwasher and run full cycle including the dry cycle. 

Dish Cloths

Like sponges, the dish cloths offer a great environment for bacteria and microorganisms. If you use dish cloths, they should be replaced daily with fresh, clean ones.

Kitchen Sinks (or truck sinks/buckets) 

Studies have shown that food prep area sinks are second only to sponges as far as having the highest number of germs. Bacteria from raw meats and other foods flourish in your sink, drain, and garbage disposal.

Things you can do?

  • Scrub with a disinfectant every day
  • Sanitize with a bleach solution (one tablespoon of unscented bleach to one gallon of water)


Wiping food prep countertops with dirty dish cloths or sponges will contaminate your countertop. When you use a sponge to wipe off the countertop, you can cross contaminate 20% – 40% of the microbes. Non-porous countertops are ideal for spreading microorganisms. This cross contamination can be to utensils, food, dish cloths, and our hands.

Things you can do?

  • Clean your countertops with soap and water (with a clean cloth or sponge).
  • If you want to clean deeper, you can first clean the countertop with soap and water and then use disinfectant. Please make sure this is safe with your particular countertop. Disinfectants don’t work immediately; it may take up to a minute to eliminate parasites and viruses. Wipe and toss with a disposable cloth. If you are going to then use the countertop to cook food, you need to clean the surface area with water afterwards, because disinfectants have not been approved safe in foods.
  • Another option is to add one tablespoon of unscented bleach to a gallon of water. Allow the solution to sit on the countertop (if this is safe for your countertop) for a few minutes and then dry with paper towels.
  • Vinegar and baking soda are not effective options to clean countertops. Studies have shown little effect of their use on Staphylococcus aureus and e. coli respectively.
  • Don’t put your phone, purse, wallet, mail, or anything else other than food on the kitchen countertop.


food safetyThe most effective way to prevent the spread of many causes of illness and infection, including food borne illness, is proper handwashing.

How to properly wash your hands?

  • Wash for at least 20 seconds with running water and soap.
  • Dry your hands with a clean towel.
  • If possible, use a nail brush to clean underneath your fingernails.

According to the Food and Drug Administration, it is not necessary to use antibacterial hand soap or dish detergent. There is not sufficient evidence that antibacterial soaps or dish detergents provide better protection against bacteria. The studies that showed its benefits had people scrub for 60 to 90 seconds or longer. That is longer than what people usually take to wash their hands; therefore, there was a decrease in the number of bacteria.

CAUTION: After taking good care of ridding your hands of germs in a public truck stop or rest area, be sure to not touch the publicly used surfaces upon returning to your truck. Carry a paper towel from the restrooms or use your backside to open doors.

Truck drivers are exposed to more germs than most when frequenting many public areas on their routes. Please be extra careful in preventing contamination to your food prep areas – and throughout your trucks – and you will likely experience less time feeling sick and more time enjoying your time transporting your load down the road!

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