The Germiest Place in Your Kitchen Is Probably Where You Least Expect

published Jan 14, 2023
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With all your fervent scrubbing, you probably think your kitchen is perfectly clean. Well, think again — because according to a study that measured the “prevalence and degree of cross-contamination across a variety of kitchen surfaces during a consumer meal preparation event” and was published in the November issue of the Journal of Food Protection, things are about to get a little spicy. 

You probably assume that areas like your counters, the sink, or your cutting board are most likely to harbor bacteria. Much to everyone’s surprise, though, the highest amount of cross-contamination was found in an unlikely spot: your spice jars. 

“We were surprised because we had not seen evidence of spice container contamination before,” Donald Schaffner, a professor in the Department of Food Science at the Rutgers School of Environmental and Biological Science, shared with Food Safety News. “Most research on the cross-contamination of kitchen surfaces due to handling of raw meat or poultry products has focused on kitchen cutting boards or faucet handles and has neglected surfaces like spice containers, trash bin lids, and other kitchen utensils.”

For the comprehensive study, the team asked participants (371 of them, to be exact) to prepare a meal consisting of a ready-to-eat lettuce salad and turkey patties, which contained bacteriophage MS2. While not harmful to humans, this served as a tracer organism to help discover where exactly the bacteria migrated to during the kitchen process. Following the meal prep, the researchers took environmental samples to assess cross-contamination with MS2. 

“For most surfaces, positivity did not exceed 20 percent, with the exception of spice containers, for which 48 percent of the samples showed evidence of MS2 cross-contamination,” the researchers shared in the results, noting that their other measurements across surfaces were in line with previous studies done on cross-contamination.

The takeaway? After meal prep, clean everything you touch — even spice jars. Because cooking can be a dirty job.

To help with your newly found cleaning habits, check out these tips on how to clean with bleach.