In a germ study conducted by NSF International scientists, 22 families were asked to swab 30 places in their homes. The study revealed that three of the top five germ hot spots in the home were in the kitchen. Fortunately, you can take these three steps to keep your kitchen cleaner and avoid germs that can cause different types of foodborne illness.

How to Wash Your Hands

Proper handwashing is essential for foodborne illness prevention, especially during food preparation. It may seem like a simple thing, but handwashing can help prevent spreading germs around the kitchen.

Here are the handwashing steps to remember: First thoroughly wet your hands with warm water (not cold). Then, apply liquid or clean bar soap. Rub your hands vigorously together for at least 20 seconds, scrubbing all surfaces thoroughly including between fingers and under nails. Then rinse well and dry. It's the soap combined with the scrubbing that helps to dislodge and remove germs and dirt.

Keep the Kitchen Clean

Kitchens can be one of the most dangerous places in the home because of the potential presence of various types of germs including bacteria on raw foods. In addition to washing hands before beginning food preparation, wash your hands after handling any raw food product because germs are not for sharing -- don’t transfer bacteria from one food to the next. Dishes and utensils need to be thoroughly washed with hot soapy water and rinsed after using. Use cutting boards made from nonporous materials and wash and sanitize them thoroughly after using, especially when switching from vegetables to raw meat. You may make a bleach solution of 5 tablespoons (1/3 cup) bleach per gallon of water or 4 teaspoons bleach per quart of water, spray the surface and allow it to sit for one minute. Rinse thoroughly and allow to air dry. When using a ready-made sanitizer, pay attention to the directions for use as they may indicate a wait time for the sanitization to occur as well as recommend rinsing the product after the wait time.

Kitchen sponges and dish rags generally tend to be hot spots for different types of germs. To help avoid spreading germs around the kitchen, remember to place wet sponges in the microwave for two minutes once per day and replace every two weeks or more as needed. Dishcloths, towels and rags should be sanitized by washing on the clothes washer's sanitizing cycle or the hot water cycle with bleach. Replace these items every one to two days.

Countertops should be thoroughly cleaned with hot soapy water and rinsed before preparing food and again after finishing food preparation. Use only cleaners designed and tested for use in food preparation areas, as others may leave harmful residues.

Avoid Cross-Contamination

Cross-contamination occurs when improper handling of foods occurs in the kitchen. For example, raw chicken juice is on the countertop where you put the lettuce or you didn’t wash your hands properly after touching the raw chicken. To avoid this problem, keep all work areas clean, use separate surfaces for different types of foods and properly wash your hands.

Here are some cross-contamination prevention steps to take right now. Separate raw foods from cooked or ready-to-eat foods, both when shopping and at home. Place raw meats in plastic containers or bags and store them near the bottom of the refrigerator to keep juices from dripping on to other foods. Store ready-to-eat foods and produce on upper shelves above uncooked foods.