1. What is surface disinfection?

Surface disinfection is the application of disinfectants to hard surfaces to destroy germs that could make people sick. It is important to disinfect food reparation surfaces, such as counter tops and cutting boards, because raw foods, including meats, fish, poultry and produce, may harbor dangerous pathogens, such as E. coli, Salmonella and Listeria. Similarly, disinfecting frequently touched surfaces in households and institutions can reduce the transmission of infectious illnesses, such as colds, flu and norovirus.

For more information, please see Household Disinfection 101.

Cleaning, accomplished with soap–or detergent–and water, refers to the physical removal of dirt and grime, and in the process, some portion of the germs on a given surface. Sometimes cleaning tools, including sponges and cloths, simply move germs from one surface to another. Disinfecting, on the other hand, refers to killing a high percentage of the germs on a surface or rendering them incapable of reproducing. Cleaning is done before disinfecting to avoid the disinfectant, for example a chlorine bleach solution, being used up in reacting with dirt and grime.

For more information, please see: Cleaning vs. Disinfecting: What’s the Difference

2. Which kitchen surfaces need disinfecting?

Food preparation surfaces that should be disinfected include countertops and cutting boards and other surfaces that contact raw foods, such as  meats, fish, poultry and produce. These foods may harbor dangerous pathogens, such as E. coli, Salmonella and Listeria. A simple bleach solution made of 1 tablespoon of bleach to 1 gallon of water, applied after cleaning a food contact surface with detergent and water, can go a long way toward destroying common foodborne germs.

For more information, please see Six Sneaky Hiding Spots for Kitchen Germs.

3. How should I disinfect in my home when a family member is sick?

When a family member has a contagious illness, such as a cold, flu or norovirus, disinfecting frequently touched surfaces, such as door knobs and and rails, can help prevent the spread of illness to others. For example, to destroy flu viruses, clean the surface first with detergent and water and then sanitize using 1 tablespoon of bleach to 1 gallon of water. Alternatively, wipe down surfaces with disposable pre-moistened wipes containing chlorine bleach.

For more information, please see Five Tips for Getting through Flu Season.

For norovirus, a more concentrated solution is required: 3⁄4 cup chlorine bleach to 1 gallon of water. We have worked with a public health partnership to develop a series of norovirus posters that may be downloaded here.

4. How important is hand washing?

Hand washing is one of the most important steps you can take to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), many diseases and conditions are spread by not washing hands with soap and clean, running water. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers that contain at least 60% alcohol are a good option for cleaning hands when you don’t have access to soap and water. These sanitizers do not eliminate all types of germs.

For more information, please see The Right Way to Wash Your Hands.