You always knew your dishwasher was convenient. But did you also know that it’s one of your best allies in keeping your kitchen safe from contaminants? The dishwasher sanitizes everything that goes in it, says Bonnie Richmond, senior lecturer in food safety and sanitation at the Hotel School at Cornell University, if you use the dry cycle. During that cycle, the internal temperature of the dishwasher reaches 170°F, which is required for sanitizing. (Sanitizing is the process of reducing harmful microbes to an acceptable level. Sterilizing is the process of removing all living organisms – something we can’t aspire to in our own homes.)
Here’s Richmond’s first rule of thumb: Run anything through the dishwasher that can go into it, including plateware, glassware, flatware, plastic cutting boards, and sponges. Anything that touches raw meat and fish, or their juices or blood, should be placed in the dishwasher immediately. That means if you use a sponge to wipe up the counter where meat juices have spilled, you should toss it right in the dishwasher and get out a clean one. At the very least, your sponges should go into the dishwasher every time you run it. Be sure to keep a backup supply on hand so you are not tempted to use a dirty one.
I had a roommate who would microwave the sponges. Of course, her main goal was to not buy new sponges. Sanitizing was just a nice side effect.
One thing you can’t put through the dishwasher is your hands. Always keep a bar of soap or soap dispenser next to the kitchen sink. To ensure that you are not spreading contaminants, wash your hands thoroughly whenever you enter the kitchen, between each kitchen task, and before you leave the kitchen.
Now all I have to do is figure out how to bring my dishwasher to the corner bodega…