Spice Containers Are Probably the Dirtiest Items in Your Kitchen

spice racks

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Key Takeaways

  • A new study found that spice containers may have the most germs in a home kitchen.
  • Faucet handles, cutting boards, and frying pan handles are also prone to cross-contamination.
  • Hand washing, sanitizing, and separating raw meat from produce are some of the best strategies for reducing the risk of catching foodborne illnesses.

Even if you clean your kitchen after cooking, harmful microbes might lurk in unexpected places. Salmonella, E. coli, and other bacteria that can lead to nausea, diarrhea, or death, can survive on kitchen surfaces for months.

Millions of Americans get sick from a foodborne illness each year. Home kitchens are just one of many spots along the food cycle where contamination can occur, but this is also the area where people have the most control.

According to a new study, spice containers might be the germiest items in a kitchen. Researchers found that faucet handles were also prone to contamination, but at much lower levels than spice containers.

Donald W. Schaffner, PhD, a distinguished food science professor at Rutgers University and a co-author of the study, said that home cooks might touch items like spice containers before washing their hands. The bacteria would then spread to the other items before the faucet handle.

This new study highlighted how the most bacteria-prone kitchen spots may not always be obvious. But Schaffner said proper cleaning and sanitizing techniques can significantly lower the risk of getting foodborne illnesses.

“It’s good that people be aware, but it’s certainly not time to panic,” Schaffner told Verywell.

The Kitchen Items You Should Clean More Often

Anything you touch while cooking—especially if you are handling raw meat—has the potential to become contaminated with harmful microbes.

Sponges, dish towels, cutting boards, and utensils are all easy targets for cross-contamination, according to Tracey Brigman, EdD, MS, RDN, LD, associate director of the National Center for Home Food Preservation at the University of Georgia.

Phones can get contaminated, too, if you’re looking up recipes online while you cook, Brigman said. If you didn’t wash your hands in between handling food, bacteria can also get on kitchen appliance knobs, trashcan lid, and refrigerator handles.

Cross-contamination can also happen when you’re not cooking. “Be careful to stock your refrigerator properly. For instance, make sure you place raw meats on the bottom shelf so they do not drip onto other already prepared foods,” Brigman said.

If you use reusable grocery bags, make sure to wrap raw meat in a disposable bag before placing it in a reusable bag.

How to Prevent Cross-Contamination in Your Kitchen

The most important tip is a simple one: Wash your hands often with soap and warm water. Surfaces can also be sanitized with antimicrobial wipes to kill any remaining germs.

Linda J. Harris, PhD, CFS, a professor of cooperative extension in microbial food safety at UC Davis, recommends making a habit of washing your hands, moving contaminated items to the dishwasher, and sanitizing the counters as you cook.

Separating contaminated items from the foods you will eat is also important, Harris said. Since raw meat may contain disease-causing bacteria, use separate cutting boards for raw meat and fresh produce. Never place cooked meat or other food items on the same plate that was used for raw meat.

To make sure meats are cooked and safe for consumption, use a meat thermometer. For example, poultry should reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees.

“It’s easy to get distracted when cooking,” Harris said. However, following simple precautions can help greatly reduce the likelihood of getting sick from a foodborne illness.

What This Means For You

By taking proper precautions, such as washing hands and surfaces frequently, separating raw meat from prepared foods, cooking to safe internal temperatures, and storing food safely, you can reduce the risk of getting sick from a foodborne illness.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Burden of foodborne illness: overview.

  2. Kirchner M, Everhart S, Doring L, et al. Cross-contamination to surfaces in consumer kitchens with MS2 as a tracer organism in ground turkey pattiesJ Food Prot. 2022;85(11):1594-1603. doi:10.4315/JFP-22-060

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Fast facts about food poisoning.

  4. Department of Health and Human Services. Cook to a safe minimum internal temperature.