The Five Germiest Places in Your Kitchen Aren't What You Think (Plus How To Clean Them)

The most bacteria-ridden spots in our kitchen are locations we're barely aware of. Eek!

A harsh reality: Between the raw ingredients, moist (and warm) environment, and endless number of time-temperature issues, your kitchen is a breeding ground for bacteria. Certain things, like your sponge, cutting board, trash can, or sink drain are pretty obvious because they're used for messy tasks—wiping up spills, disposing of garbage, cutting raw meat, that sort of thing. But according to a study by the National Science Foundation, none of these places are actually where the pathogens that are most likely to give us foodborne illnesses reside. In fact, the areas they identified as the most bacteria-ridden in our kitchen are locations we're barely aware of. Eek!

Read on for a dose of much-needed sanitation realness.

Refrigerator Crisper and Meat Drawers

This one's surprising because a well-functioning fridge is the only place in your kitchen (heck, your home) that you can count on to keep your food at a low enough temperature—i.e. below 40 degrees—to prevent it from growing potentially unsafe bacteria. But alas, this doesn't mean it can't harbor germs. According to the NSF, the crisper drawers are often found to have traces of Salmonella, Listeria, bacteria, and mold, and same goes for the meat drawer (which is also at high risk for E. Coli contamination). To clean these compartments, remove the drawers from the fridge and wipe out the inside with a sponge or cloth, mild detergent, and warm water. Rinse and dry with a clean towel. Do this once a month or any time you see a spill inside.

The Blender Gasket

Words to live by: Just because it looks clean doesn't mean it is clean. Exhibit A? The base of your blender. A common mistake we make post-smoothie session is cleaning just the pitcher and ignoring the gasket, or the thin piece of rubber meant to form a water-tight seal around the blender's base. This small and seemingly harmless item made the top three (!) on the NSF's list of germ-filled sites, particularly for Salmonella, E. Coli, yeast, and mold. To clean it properly, the most important piece of advice is to disassemble the blender jar completely (gasket, blade, lid, and base) first, then place all parts in the dishwasher. If it's not dishwasher safe, thoroughly hand wash all these pieces separately in hot, soapy water and dry them before you reassemble.

Your Can Opener

It makes a lot of sense when you think how many different foods a can opener touches (…soup, tuna fish, cat food, shall I go on?) without being thoroughly cleaned in between. Drop this tool in the dishwasher after every use, and if it's hand wash only, thoroughly clean in hot soapy water and let it air dry.

Rubber Spatulas

E. Coli, yeast, and mold are all common inhabitants of this seemingly innocuous kitchen gadget. The most common offender is the style of spatula that's constructed from two pieces. Similar to the blender, many cooks forget to take the multiple components apart when cleaning, which allows potentially unsafe bacteria to live and grow inside. Next time, separate the handle from the head and pop both halves in the dishwasher or hand wash and air dry. Better yet, toss your germy one and snag a spatula that's made from a single piece of silicone. This one from GIR doesn't have any nooks or crevices for germs to reside ($13,

Food Storage Containers

Not just the container itself, but again, it's that testy little gasket that's meant to keep your container leak-proof and airtight. Talk about irony! The NSF flagged this piece of rubber as a breeding ground for Salmonella, mold, and yeast. If your containers are dishwasher safe, place the base and the lid inside for cleaning after each use, and check the manual to see if the gasket's removable (if so, take it off and add to the dishwasher, too). If you're washing by hand, clean the container and lid in hot soapy water and pay special attention to the area around the seal and any grooves where the cover attaches to the container. Rinse thoroughly and allow to air dry.

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