With the weather getting warmer, and the days getting longer, many people are preparing for an annual event: spring cleaning. To many, the word “cleaning” doesn’t bring pleasant thoughts or feelings, but the sense of accomplishment and the smell and look of a clean house. It’s worth the time and effort.

It also is a great time to target harmful bacteria that can lurk on kitchen surfaces and even in your refrigerator. Salmonella, Staphyloccus, E. coli and Listeria are just some of the bacteria that might be hanging out in your kitchen. While you can’t see or smell bacteria, they are everywhere and they especially like moist environments. Protect you and your family from bacteria by keeping your kitchen clean and dry.

Some spring cleaning tips you should practice year-round to make your kitchen and food safer include:

• Always clean surfaces thoroughly with hot, soapy water. Sanitize (which is different than cleaning) your kitchen countertops with diluted chlorine bleach or disinfectant kitchen cleaner. Use one teaspoon of bleach to one quart of water.

• Disinfect dishcloths often. Launder dishcloths frequently using the hot water cycle in the washing machine. Then be sure to dry them in the dryer. These items harbor bacteria and, when wet, can promote bacterial growth. Also, consider using paper towels to clean up kitchen surfaces. Especially after preparing raw meat, poultry and fish.

• Rid your refrigerator of spills, bacteria, mold and mildew. Clean your refrigerator weekly to kill germs that could contaminate foods. To tackle bacteria, mold and mildew, clean interior refrigerator surfaces with hot, soapy water. Rinse with a damp cloth, and dry with a clean cloth. Manufacturers recommend against using chlorine bleach as it can damage seals, gaskets and linings.

• Clean your kitchen sink drain and disposal once or twice a week by pouring a solution of one teaspoon of chlorine bleach in one quart of water down the drain. Food particles get trapped in the drain and disposable, creating the perfect environment for bacterial growth.

Do you know the difference between cleaning and sanitizing?

Cleaning is removing particles, including dirt and food, from surfaces throughout your kitchen. Cleaning usually involves washing surfaces with soap and water, rinsing with clean water and air-drying or using a paper towel.

Sanitizing takes cleaning one step farther. Sanitizing reduces germs, such as Salmonella, to a safe level, so you and your family will not become ill.

Illness-causing bacteria might be present in foods. Bacteria also might be spread from contaminated hands to food or from contaminated surfaces (such as cutting boards, knives and countertops) to food. After cleaning a surface, spray it with a sanitizer of choice. Leave the sanitizer on the surface for the suggested amount of time. Allow the surface to air dry. A simple homemade sanitizer is one tablespoon of 6-percent unscented chlorine bleach to one gallon of warm water. Bleach will break down over time, so mix up only what you need and any leftover, pour down the kitchen sink and help clean the drains.

Happy spring cleaning!

Rebecca McFarland is the family and consumer sciences extension agent for Frontier Extension District No. 11, which serves Franklin County. For more information or questions about food safety, call her at (785) 229-3520 or email rmcfarla@ksu.edu