Not all products are safe to use around food, so it's important to understand which ones you can rely on in these spaces.

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Credit: Getty / Denis Tevekov

Now more than ever before, keeping surfaces where food is prepared or stored as clean as possible is critical. Spills or small spoiled particles can also cause bacteria to develop or invite bugs and other pests into your home. Not all cleaners, however, are safe for areas that come into contact with food—in fact, some chemicals are toxic if they are consumed by humans and animals. Ahead, we spoke with Lauren Bowen, the Director of Franchise Operations at Two Maids & A Mop, to find out which ingredients are safe to use in and around your pantry and food storage areas.

Skip the Bleach

Many homeowners go straight for bleach (or a diluted bleach solution) for every surface, since it is strong enough to kill most kitchen-borne and general home germs, explains Bowen, but there are many safer and more effective options available. "Bleach can be harmful to your digestive system, so you should use it very sparingly, if at all, around your foods—even those packaged securely in a pantry," she advises. If you do reach for the bleach while cleaning this area, be sure to avoid mixing it with other chemicals, she notes. "This combination can lead to toxic fumes," she says, "which can affect the stored food or anyone breathing near the area."

Food-Safe Cleaners

You should always strive to use food-safe cleaners in the kitchen. These types of products are normally labelled as such (Honest's Antibacterial Disinfecting Spray ($8.59, target.com), for example, is touted as safe to use on many food-adjacent surfaces, your child's highchair, included), but Bowen notes that you should still thoroughly read the ingredient list to be sure. If you're having a hard time sourcing an option—or if you want to go the DIY route—she suggests using baking soda or vinegar. "Vinegar is a much safer and natural alternative to other high-grade products, and is just as strong and effective," she says. "Mixing water and vinegar in a spray bottle also gives you a natural deodorizer to remove any scents lingering in your pantry." Castile soap is another option Bowen recommends for anything that needs scrubbing.

Pantry Cleaning Tips

Before you clean your pantry, remove all food and storage canisters; this will prevent accidental chemical contact. Next, spray your cleaning solution onto a microfiber cloth and get scrubbing. "After you've thoroughly wiped down your pantry and are ready to put the food items back on the shelves, make sure that the surfaces are fully dry," she says. "Leftover moisture in the pantry can seep into cardboard and other porous packaging, which can cause mold and bacterial growth if the dry food inside becomes wet." To prevent future spills and messes, remove your shelf-stable items from their packaging and store them in airtight containers. This not only prevents messes and crumbs, but also keeps items fresher for longer.

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