The Germiest Place In Your Kitchen Will Probably Surprise You

What are you doing as you make burgers that is leaving a trail of germs behind?

A high angle shot of a hand reaching for a spice jar from a pulled-out spice drawer
Photo: Dotdash Meredith

Bacteria. Cross-contamination. Raw meat juices. These are all the phrases that make you want to grab a sponge and start scrubbing. Think of what you know about keeping appliances, equipment, and surfaces clean in the busiest room of the house.

If you had to guess the germiest spot in your kitchen, what immediately comes to mind? The sink, counters, refrigerator handle, and cutting boards, probably get a lot of your attention when it comes to wiping down surfaces. We even started paying closer attention to our dish towels. But could there be a place that you're overlooking with your cleaning habits?

The Overlooked Area of Your Kitchen That Is Full of Germs

A new study shows that germs and bacteria are more likely to be hiding in an unexpected place in the kitchen: your spice cabinet or drawer.

Researchers in a recent study conducted by the Agriculture Department's Food Safety and Inspection Service focused on how people preparing turkey burgers cross-contaminated various surfaces in a cooking space.

The result? The spice jars used in the meal prep were the most germ-laden items in the process.

The study, recently published in the Journal of Food Protection, found that while consumers might be aware of the importance of keeping surfaces, cutting boards, and appliances clean, the spice jars weren't high on the list of concerns.

"Consumers may not necessarily think to wipe down or decontaminate spice containers after cooking because they are not typically targeted as high risk for cross-contamination in consumer messaging," the study says.

What You Need to Know About Germs and Your Spice Cabinet

Here are a few things to keep in mind for food safety that can prevent creating said "germiest spot in the kitchen." When you are forming a meatloaf or hamburger patty you want to be careful with handling the raw meat, as you probably already know. Be aware of the steps you are taking ahead of time to get a big picture of the project. Consider taking out those flavorful spices and seasoning and pre-measuring them before even touching raw meat. Or conversely, handle the meat, wash your hands, and then reach for the seasonings. We think of washing our hands before and after meal prep—and we should keep doing that—but there is also a need for more hand-washing during meal preparation as well.

What do you need to think about the next time you are handling raw meat and the jars of dried herbs, garlic salt, and onion powder that make the recipes everyone loves to eat? There's no need to scour the spice cabinet or drawer with bleach every time you cook, but you should reexamine your routine when working with raw poultry and meat in combination with spice jars and bottles. Those seasonings are a key ingredient for flavor—take good care of them.

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