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These Are the 10 Dirtiest Spots in Your Home Kitchen

05/20/2014 02:40 pm ET | Updated Jul 20, 2014
  • Epicurious The most trusted, authoritative and award-winning digital voice in food

by Alessandra Bulow

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"People think that the bathroom is the dirtiest place in their house," says Cheryl Luptowski, a Home Safety Expert at the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF), an independent public health and environmental organization. "When in fact the kitchen has the most germs."

Hidden germs like Salmonella, Listeria, E. coli, plus mold and yeast* are lurking in your kitchen and have the potential to make you and your family very sick if you don't know where to look. Here, Lupotowski and University of Arizona-Tucson Professor and Microbiologist Dr. Charles Gerba (aka Dr. Germ -- his nickname, not ours) reveal the 10 dirtiest spots in the average home kitchen, plus expert advice on how to can banish germs.

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1. Sponges and Dishcloths

Microbe: E. coli

According to a study by the NSF, more than 75 percent of dish sponges and rags have some sort of coliform bacteria -- a family of bacteria that includes Salmonella and E. coli and is an indicator of potential fecal contamination.

EXPERT ADVICE: Microwaving your sponges and dishcloths on high for about 30 seconds will kill most bacteria, according to Dr. Germ.

2. Sink

Microbe: E. coli

You may think that this is one of cleanest spots because everything gets washed in the sink, right? Think again. 45 percent of kitchen sinks were found to have coliform bacteria.

EXPERT ADVICE: Dr. Germ advises disinfecting the sink with a kitchen cleaner and just to be safe, dont apply the 10-second rule when you drop food in the sink.

3. Refrigerator Vegetable Compartment

Microbes: Salmonella, Listeria, yeast and mold

"Dark moist environments tend to breed germs, even in the refrigerator. Produce should always be stored on a separate shelf above meat, poultry and seafood to avoid raw juices dripping onto the produce. First, avoid cross-contamination by separating ready-to-eat and unwashed produce. Also, keep them separate in your grocery cart, during food preparation, and when using kitchen tools and appliances," says Luptowski.

EXPERT ADVICE: To effectively clean the compartment, first remove the drawer from the refrigerator if possible. Then, Lupotowski advises washing the bin using a clean sponge or soft cloth and a mild detergent mixed with warm water. Rinse with tap water and wipe dry with a paper towel. To help control odors, use warm water mixed with a baking soda solution (about 1-2 tablespoons of baking soda to 1 quart of water). Rinse and wipe dry.

4. Refrigerator Meat Compartment

Microbes: Salmonella, E. coli, yeast and mold

It's another dark moist environment that's a breeding ground for bacteria. Store meat and seafood on a separate shelf below produce to avoid raw juices from dripping onto the produce.

EXPERT ADVICE: "Clean monthly the same way you clean the vegetable compartment and whenever you see any spilled meat juices," says Lupotowski.

5. Cutting Board

Microbe: E. coli

In a study by the NSF, 18 percent of cutting boards were found to have coliform bacteria.

EXPERT ADVICE: Dr. Germ recommends using separate cutting boards: one for produce and one for meat, seafood, and poultry to avoid cross-contamination. Wash each one in hot soapy water and dry with a paper towel since bacteria thrive in moist environments.


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6. Blender Gasket

Microbes: Salmonella, E. coli, yeast and mold

"Appliances and utensils that are not properly disassembled and cleaned can harbor microorganisms," says Luptowski.

EXPERT ADVICE: "To clean properly, completely disassemble the blender, removing the jar, lid, plus the blade and gasket at the bottom and place them all in the dishwasher after each use. If the pieces are not dishwasher safe, hand them thoroughly in hot soapy water, then rinse and dry before re-assembling," says Lupotwoski.

7. Kitchen Countertops

Microbe: E. coli

Thirty-two percent of kitchen countertops were found to have coliform bacteria, according to an NSF study.

EXPERT ADVICE: Wiping down countertops with dirty sponges and dishcloths increases the chance that this area will be a germ hot spot in your kitchen. Break out the kitchen disinfectant again and use disposable paper towels to clean up this area.

8. Can Opener

Microbes: Salmonella, E. coli, yeast and mold

Simply rinsing this tool isn't enough to safeguard it from germs because it comes into direct contact with food.

EXPERT ADVICE: "To effectively clean, place the can opener in the dishwasher after each use (if dishwasher safe). If hand washing, wash in hot soapy water, rinsing thoroughly with clean tap water before air drying after each use. If hand washing, pay special attention to the area around the cutting blades to be sure all food residue is removed," says Luptowski.

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9. Rubber Spatula

Microbes: E. coli, yeast and mold

For two-piece spatulas, it's important to separate the handle from the spatula portion before cleaning.

EXPERT ADVICE: "If they are dishwasher safe, place both sections in the machine after each use. If hand washing, wash in hot soapy water, rinsing thoroughly with clean water. For one-piece spatulas, hand wash it thoroughly in hot soapy water, paying special attention to the area where the handle joins the spatula. Rinse thoroughly and dry," says Luptowski.

10. Food Storage Container with Rubber Seal

Microbes: Salmonella, yeast and mold

Containers that have not been cleaned thoroughly have high counts of yeast and mold which may make food spoil quickly.

EXPERT ADVICE: "If dishwasher safe, place both the container and the lid in the dishwasher and wash after each use. If hand washing, wash both the container and lid in hot soapy water, paying special attention to the area around the seal as well as any grooves where the cover attaches to the container. Rinse thoroughly and allow to air dry," says Lupotowski.

*Follow Dr. Germ and Lupotowskis advice or you may risk illness from these germs:
Salmonella: "Within 8 to 12 hours after eating a contaminated food item, a person may develop abdominal pain and diarrhea, and sometimes nausea and vomiting. Symptoms generally last a day or less, but can be more serious in older or debilitated people," says Lupotowski.

Listeria: "Within 7 to 30 days after eating a contaminated food item, a person may develop symptoms including fever, headache, nausea and vomiting. Listeria primarily affects pregnant women and their fetuses, newborns, the elderly, people with cancer, and those with impaired immune systems. Can cause fetal and infant death," says Lupotowski.

E. coli: "Within 2 to 5 days after eating a contaminated food item, a person may develop severe diarrhea (possibly bloody) and abdominal cramps. Usually little or no fever is present, and the illness resolves in 5 to 10 days," says Lupotowski.

Yeast and Mold: "For those with allergies to yeast and mold, these actions may lead to an allergenic response," says Lupotowski.

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