The kitchen sink: an overlooked place for food safety

Cleaning the kitchen sink. (Photo: iStock - Studio Light and Shade)

We use the kitchen sink for food preparation – rinsing produce, cleaning pots and pans, washing utensils that touch raw meat, and more. With these activities come the possibility for foodborne illness-causing bacteria to hang out in the sink too. If proper food preparation safety steps are not followed, these bacteria could cross-contaminate your food and make you sick!

In our recent study, participants prepared a breakfast meal with raw sausage, shell eggs, and a fruit salad made with cantaloupe they cut up. Among the surfaces tested, the most often contaminated after they finished preparing their meal was the kitchen sink, with 34% of sinks being contaminated.

Even scarier, 26% of the samples of cut-up cantaloupe from the fruit salad were contaminated after breakfast prep. This can happen when there are bacteria in the sink, and the cantaloupe gets placed in the sink for washing, or if hands weren’t washed properly after touching raw meat or poultry or an unwashed cantaloupe. The bacteria in the sink or on your hands can cross-contaminate from the sink to other items, including those you normally eat raw…this means you’ll be eating that bacteria too.

After using your sink to wash or prepare food, follow a two-step process to fully clean and sanitize your sink:

1) Clean: use warm, soapy water to wash the sink. Wipe it clean with single-use or paper towels.

2) Sanitize: use a sanitizer and let air dry. Sanitizers can be homemade (1 tablespoon of liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of water) or a commercial sanitizer or sanitizing wipe.

Cleaning and sanitizing will help reduce the risk that your foods or other utensils can be cross-contaminated through food preparation in your sink.

For more information about food safety, call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) or email [email protected] to reach a food safety specialist or chat live at from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday.