By Bianca Mendez
Kitchens are dirty business—and we're not just talking about the dishes left in the sink.
Not long ago, I stopped by my friend Carrie's apartment before grabbing dinner out. As she was getting out of her work clothes, I fished around her kitchen for a water glass. "When was the last time you cleaned this?" I asked curiously, pointing to a germy-looking soap dish by the sink. "Ugh, I don't remember," she replied. "I'm so busy with work that I haven't had time to give my kitchen a good cleaning."
The icky truth is that kitchens are probably dirtier than your toilet. "The kitchen is a tough place compared to other places in the houses because you're dealing with [foods] that can be contaminated with pathogenic organisms," says Dr. Philip M. Tierno, Jr., professor of microbiology and pathology at NYU School of Medicine. And while we're about to reveal some of the dirtiest places in your kitchen, one consistent germ-landmine is attached to you: your hands! "The biggest thing you could do to reduce the spread of bacteria and illnesses is to wash your hands," says Melissa Joy Dobbins, RD, and Founder of Sound Bites Inc. Germs from other environments like smartphones or anywhere around the house can make its way into the kitchen through your hands. Keep those hands clean and then check out the other places in your kitchen are brimming with germs—and if you're not grossed out enough yet, then don't miss this list: This Is How Many Germs Are On Your Gym Equipment!
1. Salt and Pepper Shakers
Just think about how many times you reach for the salt and pepper from your spice rack. Now think about how many times you clean them. Not so much, right? In a 2008 study, researchers tested the salt and pepper shaker surfaces of 30 participants who had early cold symptoms for viruses. They found that out of all the surfaces they tested, every single one had traces of the cold virus. Eek!
2. The Blender Gasket
Most people don't efficiently clean the blender gaskets after using them, says Toby Amidor, M.S., R.D., nutrition expert and author of The Greek Yogurt Kitchen. A 2013 NSF International Household Germ Study saw that 36 percent of these gaskets contain traces of salmonella and 43 of them carry yeast or mold. Get to cleaning—or maybe start over with one of these 20 Best Ever Blenders for Every Budget!
3. Dishwasher Handle
Like dating, it's the outside of the dishwasher that matters just as much as what's inside. Sure, what's inside the dishwasher is clean, but what about the actual appliance itself? A 2011 study examined 189 household dishwashers across several global cities around the world and found 60 percent of them contained some type of fungi on the doors. And that's just part of the icky truth; they found that over 50 percent of them contain black yeast on the dishwasher door which can lead to infections in humans. Two years later, another study by Medical Mycology found that yeast thrives on these spaces and they can potentially be harmful to your health.
Despite how many times you rinse your spatula, this tool might still be lingering with germs. An infographic from NSF found that rubber spatulas are 36 percent likely to contain levels of E.Coli and 43 percent likely to have yeast and mold. Ew!
5. The Kitchen Sink
Think about all the stuff that you do in your sink: clean produce, defrost meat, dispose of food waste, etc. You may not be doing it all at the same time, but inadequate washing of your sink could cause different types of bacteria to cling. "People often use the sink as a pot to let things like vegetables hang out," says Tierno. But the sink happens to be dirtier because it's not cleaned as frequently, says Tierno. And throwing everything from dirty dishes to meats in there causes bacteria buildup, which makes the sink a breeding ground for cross-contamination.
6. Refrigerator Handles
Oh the fridge, everyone's one stop shop for food. You make a few trips to the fridge while cooking, but are you washing your hands in between? A fridge's handle is an easy spot for germs to accumulate because so many people from all walks of life are touching it. And you no idea where your roommate's hands have recently been. Are you grossed out enough yet?
7. Your Dish Towel
A Kansas State study found that those dish towels are big cross-contamination offenders. Researchers noticed that people would touch the towels before and after washing their hands. Even when their hands were properly cleaned, they would still wipe their hands on the towel, recontaminating themselves. And if you're using the towel to wipe up every mess, your cloth will be covered with a significant amount of bacteria that can give you a foodborne illness. And speaking of salmonella, here's Why You Shouldn't Rinse Your Chicken.
8. Coffee Reservoir
Would like some mold with your morning cup of coffee? Didn't think so! The water reservoir in your coffee maker is often the most forgotten of the household appliances. That same NSF study found that water reservoirs are a great environment for yeast and mold to hang around.
9. Your Dish Sponge
And the winner for the grossest item in your kitchen goes to...yup, the sponge. A recent study concluded there are roughly 10 million bacteria sitting on every square inch of a sponge, making it dirtier that the toilet seat! "In a matter of a 20-minute period, you have had a generation of (bacteria) growing," says Tierno. And what makes sponges even grosser is that they may contain a bacteria called campylobacter—which could lead to serious diseases and even paralysis. Yikes!
10. Cutting Board
Using the cutting board to prepare both produce and raw meat is the easiest way for bacteria to grow. Even if you rinse it, there could still be traces of bacteria clinging on to the board, especially with wooden ones. Bacteria can hide and grow in hidden cracks of board, making it harder to get out. For this reason, Amidor suggests replacing cutting boards every so often. We like the ones featured in our list of 21 Tools to Help You Lose Weight.
We love leftovers as much as the next person, but just be careful of how long you're leaving them out. "Leftover foods shouldn't be left out at room temperature below 90 degrees Fahrenheit for over two hours," says Amidor. "If someone's touching it or sneezing by it, there's possibility to introduce bacteria in various ways."
12. The Refrigerator
While we rely on our fridge to keep our food fresh, it's also prone to messiness. Leaks and spills caused by containers that weren't properly closed or from thawed meat could make their way to other areas in the fridge—thus contaminating fresh produce and other foods, says Dobbins. P.S. - Here are 18 Surprising Foods You Shouldn't Keep in Your Fridge!
13. Can Opener
A can opener is a kitchen tool that gets overlooked. Although you probably whip it out for a few seconds at a time, not washing it properly can result in salmonella and E.coli bacteria growth. Plus, when it's thrown back into a drawer without being washed properly, it's now spreading the yucky germs to other utensils.
14. Reusable Grocery Bags
You may be saving the planet with these reusable bags, but you're also losing points for cleanliness. According to a 2011 survey from Con-Agra, 85 percent of Americans aren't washing their reusable grocery bags. "You're putting raw meat or eggs in there, taking it home, and then using it again for fresh produce," says Amidor. "You're just asking for cross contamination bacteria to be growing in there."
15. Your Vegetable Drawer
"Unfortunately, [vegetables in the drawer] go rotten and get forgotten about," says Dobbins. The NSF study also found that the vegetable compartment is home to yeast, mold, and listeria, all of which can contaminate any other fresh vegetables into your fridge. And by the way, just because it doesn't look green and fuzzy doesn't mean it isn't moldy; here are 6 Sneaky Sources of Mold in Your Diet.
16. Expired Food in Your Fridge and Pantry
Foods that live past their shelf life can attract unwanted guests. "It is really important to rotate your stuff, even in a small kitchen. You can catch pests before having an infestation," says Amidor. A bag of rice does not seemingly last forever; if it's been there for awhile, you may spot a little worm if you look closely. Yuck!
17. The Knife Block
In 2014, The Doctors did a test that compared the bathroom floor near your toilet with the germs inside your knife block—and found that the knife block had nine times more bacteria in it. Nasty! Consider installing a magnetic knife strip (in a safe place, away from the reach of children). And once you feel better about the cleanliness of your kitchen and tools, level up your healthy eating game with our 25 Tips to Cook Once, Eat for a Week!