Six Sneaky Hiding Spots for Kitchen Germs
Ralph Morris, MD

Six Sneaky Hiding Sports for Kitchen Germs
Watch full video here.

What are the sneakiest hiding spots for kitchen germs?  Microbiologist Lisa Yakas, of NSF-International recently set out to answer that question.  Her findings confirm that germs are especially partial to environments that feature moisture and food residue. 

Twenty volunteer families enlisted in Yakas’ NSF-International project in which participants swabbed 14 common kitchen surfaces.  Next the surfaces were tested for yeast, mold and the bacteria E. coli, Salmonella and Listeria.  The presence of these germs signal a potential elevated health risk, especially for susceptible people, such as pregnant women, older adults, children and people with a compromised immune system. 

 Most volunteers thought the most contaminated kitchen surface would turn out to be the microwave control pad. That was not the case.  Hard-to -access surfaces that are not regularly cleaned or disinfected but that regularly contact food were the germiest.  Yakas recounts several of these examples in the video.  The table below lists these surfaces, the particular germs found inhabiting them, and tips for reducing your risk of illness from these germs. 

 Kitchen Surface Germs Identified Tips for Avoiding these Germs
Rubber spatula Salmonella, E. coli, yeast and mold For 2-piece spatula, separate pieces of the spatula and if dishwasher-safe, place in dishwasher; if hand-washing, wash in hot, soapy water, rinse, dry and reassemble.
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For 1-piece spatula, if dishwasher-safe, place in dishwasher; if hand-washing, wash in hot, soapy water; rinse and dry.
Can opener Salmonella, E. coli, yeast and mold Wash thoroughly in hot, soapy water, especially grooved areas, removing all food debris, and dry; if dishwasher safe, scrub lightly and place in dishwasher.
Blender gasket Salmonella, E. coli, yeast and mold Unplug blender and follow manufacturer’s directions for disassembly and cleaning.  Suggestion: If dishwasher-safe, place in dishwasher; if hand-washing, wash each component in hot, soapy water, especially the area between rubber gasket and metal blade assembly; rinse and dry before reassembling.
Refrigerator produce bin/drawer Salmonella, Listeria, yeast and mold Wash bin with a mild detergent mixed with warm water; rinse and wipe dry. The US Food and Drug Administration recommends monthly sanitizing as an added precaution against Listeria.  Combine 1 teaspoon of unscented bleach to 1 quart of water; flood the surface with this solution and leave wet for 10 minutes, followed by rinsing with clean water. Air or pat dry.
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Separate pre-washed and unwashed vegetables to avoid cross-contamination.
Refrigerator meat compartment Salmonella, E.coli, yeast and mold Wash bin with a mild detergent mixed with warm water; rinse and wipe dry.
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Ideally, store meat and seafood below produce to avoid raw juices dripping onto produce.
Rubber-sealed food storage container Salmonella, yeast and mold If dishwasher-safe, place container and lid in dishwasher; if hand-washing, use hot soapy water, paying attention to the seal and groove areas; rinse and air dry.

Each year, 48 million people in the United States–one in six of us–become sick from germs taken in with our food.  Most of these illnesses cause only mild symptoms, but 128,000 people are hospitalized and 3,000 die of foodborne diseases annually, according to estimates by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  CDC reports that from 2009-2010, among foodborne outbreaks with a known single setting where food was consumed, approximately one in five originated in a private home.  That’s why one of the most important lines of defense against foodborne illness is the education of home-based food handlers according to researcher Dr. Elizabeth Scott (2003 study).1  We agree, and we hope this new information is helpful to you in your efforts to keep a clean, safe kitchen.  And by the way, the handiest food safety tip we know is about hands themselves:  Be sure to wash your hands thoroughly before and after touching food!

Ralph Morris, MD, MPH, is a Physician and Preventive Medicine and Public Health official living in Bemidji, MN.


1The other two lines of defense against foodborne illness are: (1) improving the hygienic quality of raw foodstuffs and (2) using food processing technologies, e.g. pasteurization and irradiation, and employing hazard analysis and critical control point concepts.

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