Growing up in a tiny New York City apartment, my family didn’t have space for a dishwasher. Every plate, pot, and fork was meticulously washed by hand, then piled high onto a single dish rack to dry.
It wasn’t until my husband and I moved into our current apartment that we were introduced to the convenience of a dishwasher. But as two working adults who relied mostly on takeout, we only ran it every two or three days, then plucked whatever dinnerware we needed straight off the rack.
That all changed when we had a baby. We were home every day and cooking a lot more, at first so we had prepped meals to scarf down in between bottle feedings and diaper changes. Then, when my son hit six months old, his journey into solids began and suddenly, the dishwasher became indispensable. Between the cutting boards, bowls, and spatulas needed to prep his food and the sippy cups, plates, and bibs required to feed him, we packed the dishwasher to the brim every night.
My son is four now and that hasn’t changed. In fact, since I work from home and test recipes on occasion, I can say our dirty plate situation has only intensified (there are days when I actually have to run the dishwasher twice!). I’m still picking up tips on proper dishwasher care and maintenance—like how best to load it and when to run the machine so we don’t get sticker shock on our energy bill. And there’s one piece of advice that came to me recently that’s completely changed how I unload it.
Do This Before Unloading Your Dishwasher
Earlier this year, I interviewed food safety expert Darin Detwiler about the dangers of cross-contamination in the kitchen when he asked a simple question: “You notice that the dishes are clean and you need to unload the dishwasher. What’s the first thing you do?”
My honest answer? “I usually just open it up and take things out.”
Detwiler, a food policy professor at Northeastern University, offered this follow-up: “I tell my students all the time that the first thing you should do is wash your hands because everything in there has been sanitized and I don’t know where your hands were last. You want to make sure you don’t undermine the whole idea of sanitizing dishes in the dishwasher.”
Detwiler’s tip has stuck with me. I’m usually unloading the dishwasher between tasks, scrambling to put everything back in its place to free the racks up for dirty dishes.
Now, I also make sure to wash my hands before I touch my newly washed and sanitized dishes. It might take an additional minute, but—especially on days when I’m working with raw meat or doing cleanup around the apartment—I know I’m doing my best to keep my dishes and eating utensils germ-free.