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Myth Buster: Can You Sanitize Kitchen Tools With Lemon Juice and Salt?

Myth: Lemon juice and salt can be used to sanitize kitchen tools like cutting boards.

Facts: Lemon juice and salt may leave your cutting boards smelling fresh, but the combo won’t leave them germ-free. To sanitize any kitchen tool effectively, food-safety experts recommend a series of steps: First, wash with hot water and soap. Rinse. Then apply a solution of one tablespoon unscented bleach to one gallon of water and let the tool stand for a few minutes. Then rinse it and blot it dry with clean paper towels.

The bleach step is key to killing bacteria like salmonella and E. coli, which can cause grave illness, according to Shelley Feist, executive director of the Partnership for Food Safety Education. However, using too much bleach can be unsafe. “Sometimes consumers think if one tablespoon is good, then a quarter cup is probably really good,” she says. But a tablespoon “is a very effective killer of these kinds of pathogens that could cause illness.”

So where did the lemon-and-salt approach come from? Both ingredients do have antimicrobial properties, just not in sufficient strength. According to John Floros, head of the Department of Food Science at Penn State University and a food science communicator for the Institute of FoodTechnologists, acidic lemon juice is unfavorable to the growth of most microbes, though it doesn’t kill them directly. And salt, he adds, has its own antimicrobial effect, drawing out water that microbes need to survive. Even in combination, lemon juice and salt “will not necessarily kill all the microbes, particularly the pathogens that we want to kill,” says Floros. “Bleach is a better alternative.”

Beth Goulart is a freelance journalist based in Austin, Texas.