spatulas

Just when you thought your kitchen was clean…it probably isn’t. At least according to a new study of everyday kitchen appliances and tools. The results of the study, which scoped out the areas where germs hide in kitchens, will make you want to scrub your kitchen again and again. And again.

The 2013 NSF International Germ Study by NSF International, a not-for-profit organization that provides standards development, product certification, auditing, education and risk management for public health and the environment, analyzed 14 everyday kitchen items from 20 volunteer families. Scientists found an assortment of bacteria on the items, including E. coli, salmonella, listeria and mold and yeast. Ick.

Considering that 21 percent of foodborne illness outbreaks are caused by food consumed in private homes, the results of this study are particularly creepy. Find out what the study uncovered as the nine germiest spots in our kitchens. (In no particular order.)

1. Refrigerator vegetable compartment

Even your veggies aren’t safe. The vegetable compartment in the refrigerator was found to harbor salmonella and listeria. NSF International recommends cleaning your veggie compartment monthly. Remove the entire drawer and scrub it down with a natural soap. To get the drawer extra fresh, clean it with an odor-killing solution of baking soda and water. Other smart practices include storing produce in a compartment above raw meats and washing all produce before putting it in the fridge.

2. Refrigerator meat compartment

While finding bacteria in the meat compartment may be less surprising than in the veggie compartment, it’s still disturbing thinking about germs hanging out in your fridge. NSF International recommends cleaning your meat compartment monthly, but it wouldn’t hurt to scrub it down more often. You can use the same method mentioned above for cleaning your meat compartment. Also, be sure to store meats below produce to avoid raw juices dripping onto your fruits and veggies.

3. Blender gasket

Bet you didn’t think about this one. The blender gasket—the rubber seal at the base of the blender—is one of the more surprising germy finds in the study. These parts of the blender were found to harbor not just yeast and mold, but also E. coli and salmonella. The likely reason is because people don’t usually disassemble the entire blender for cleaning. You need to completely remove the base, including the blade and gasket, so that the area doesn’t constantly build up with gunk. NSF International suggests cleaning your blender and its associated parts fully after each use.

4. Can opener

The simple can opener can be one of the germiest locations in your kitchen. Instead of using it and putting it away without cleaning or rinsing it—give it a good scrub to get rid of any food residue after each use.

5. Rubber spatula

Watch out for this bacteria trap. Spatulas were found to harbor yeast, mold and even E. coli. Apparently many rubber spatulas actually come in two parts: the handle and the, well, spatula. To clean a two-part spatula properly, you need to take it apart first. And, for one-piece spatulas, pay special attention to cleaning the part where the handle joins the spatula.

6. Refrigerator water dispenser

The moist atmosphere in your refrigerator’s water dispenser is the perfect spot for mold to hang out. Even worse? It’s probably not an area you think about cleaning too often. NSF International recommends cleaning your water dispenser system by sending a solution of water and vinegar through the system to clear it out. This can be a bit of a process, so look up the how-to in your refrigerator manual. You should also clean the waterspout and other easily reachable areas of the water dispenser regularly.

7. Refrigerator ice dispenser

Like the water dispenser, your ice dispenser is also an area where mold can grow. To clean your ice dispenser, first turn off the icemaker and then remove the ice bin. Wash the entire bin in hot soapy water. Allow it to dry completely before returning it to the freezer.

8. Knife block

Those teeny slots in the knife block create the perfect environment for mold to thrive, especially if you don’t allow knives to completely dry before putting them back in the block. It’s also important to clean the knife block regularly in hot soapy water. Make sure to turn it upside down and allow it to dry completely after cleaning. (NSF International recommends cleaning your knife block with bleach! Gah! Don’t do this. Use a simple natural soap and hot water, and your knife block will get squeaky clean—and not dirtied up with chemicals.)

9. Food storage container with rubber seal

All sorts of food residue and gunk can get stuck in the rubber seals of food storage containers—causing mold to grow. When washing food storage containers, pay attention to the area around the seal and any other grooves and crevices.

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image: gail m tang