5 Things Roommates Should Know About Sharing a Kitchen This Year

Send these expert tips to your whole apartment, stat.

August 21, 2020
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Photo by: Andersen Ross/Getty

Andersen Ross/Getty

It’s that time of year: Students around the country are signing up for classes, packing their suitcases and preparing to return to college. But this fall, heading back to campus will require navigating a lot more than picking the right chemistry professor. Because of COVID-19, students — and frankly, anyone with roommates — are being forced to rethink the safety of shared spaces — including the kitchen. Here are five expert tips to help ensure that your kitchen (and everyone in it) stays healthy.

Take Turns In the Kitchen

While it’s possible for COVID-19 to spread by touching contaminated surfaces, “person-person transmission is thought to be the biggest risk factor,” says Dr. Karen Krueger, MD, infectious disease specialist and instructor of medicine at Northwestern Medicine.

Because most kitchens aren’t big enough for people to stay six feet apart, food safety expert and trainer Jeff Nelken recommends cooking in shifts determined by roommates. “Ideally, you’ll have one person in there at a time,” he says. Even if you’re alone, you should still wear a mask. As recommended by the CDC, masks reduce the spray of droplets onto food and surfaces.

Keep It Clean

In times like these, it’s important to keep the kitchen extra clean. According to Nelken, that means disinfecting between each use. After they finish cooking, students should wipe down counters and high-touch areas with an EPA-registered disinfectant. In a pinch, a solution made of four teaspoons of bleach per quart of room temperature water or alcohol solutions with at least 70% alcohol can also be used.

To make sure you don’t miss any high-touch surfaces like faucets, door handles, light switches or knobs, try Nelken’s trick for training new restaurant staff: Place a small piece of blue tape on each spot as a reminder.

Nelken also suggests decluttering the kitchen counter. It will make your cleaning job easier and gives “the virus less to make contact with.”

Toss In the Towels

Studies have shown that dish towels are teeming with bacteria. Now, restaurants are swapping them out (along with cloth napkins) in favor of single-use items in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. It’s not a bad idea to follow in your own kitchen, either.

“If someone needs to remove hot items from an oven or microwave, having your own gloves or dish towel would be a best practice,” says Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, a registered dietitian and consultant who specializes in food safety and culinary nutrition.

Shop for One

“While food has not been identified as a conduit for viral infection, it is best to keep foods separate and contained,” says Martin Bucknavage, senior food safety extension associate at Penn State’s Department of Food Science.

That means replacing anything that is typically shared, like salt shakers and ketchup bottles, to a single-use model as much as possible.

Divvy Up Food Early

While it’s easy to buy mustard packets and mini cartons of milk, other ingredients might be more tricky to downsize. If you can’t find an individual portion, consider purchasing the normal size and dividing it up into storage containers or zip-top bags. (Just be careful not to make contact with the food itself.)

Then, label your food properly with a permanent marker and keep it in an assigned area of the fridge or cabinet to make sure that everyone sticks to their own food. Again, while COVID-19 isn’t known to spread through food itself, you could catch it from someone’s saliva, says Amidor.

It’s also possible that one of your roommates (or you) won’t feel comfortable sharing at all — and that’s totally understandable. “If someone isn't comfortable sharing anything then you need to respect that,” says Amidor. “The pandemic is something no one ever experienced and if there is a high-risk roommate or they just want to mind their own food and supplies, then you need to be respectful of that.”

Above all: If you have any COVID-19 symptoms, quarantine away from your roommates immediately. Use a separate bathroom, and have others leave meals outside your door. Stay in touch with your doctor while monitoring symptoms, even after a COVID-19 test.

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