Whether you consider yourself a neat freak or not, you probably clean your kitchen countertops pretty regularly. And you likely know how to wash produce and cook meat to a safe temperature. However, you can do all of that and still expose yourself to tons of germs in your cooking space.
Not to scare you, but there are a lot of unexpected places that harbor dirt, grime and bacteria in your kitchen. According to a study on cross-contamination across a variety of kitchen surfaces published by the Journal of Food Protection in 2022, researchers found that spice jars had the highest amount of cross-contamination.
The study asked a set of consumers to prepare a meal using turkey patties containing bacteriophage MS2, and a lettuce salad. Once they were done, researchers took samples to assess cross-contamination with MS2 and found that “for most surfaces, positivity did not exceed 20%, with the exception of spice containers, for which 48% of the samples showed evidence of MS2 cross-contamination.”
The lesson? Always wash your hands after touching food. Heck, you may even want to invest in an automated soap dispenser so you don’t have to touch that either.
Of course, you may also want to wash your spice jars with hot soapy water or even replace them (while you're at it, go ahead and toss any spices that may be expired — yes, they can go bad).
Trust us, though; there are lots of other germy areas in your kitchen. Below, some of the dirtiest things in your kitchen you should probably junking or scrubbing ASAP.
Things you should replace in your kitchen in 2024
This one may seem like a no-brainer, but it's easy to forget to replace your kitchen sponges, brushes and cloths. According to study from Scientific Reports on kitchen sponges, researchers found that "a single cubic centimeter could be packed with more than 5 x 1,010 bacteria." For comparison, the report says that such bacteria densities are generally only found in feces. Have we got your attention now?
If you think cleaning your sponge will help — nope! The study also found that boiling or microwaving a sponge only increases bacteria growth! Instead, you should replace your sponges regularly — ideally once every week or two.
More bad news: Your go-to slicing-and-dicing surface can harbour 200% more fecal bacteria than a toilet seat, according to a study done by the University of Arizona. “In most cases, it’s safer to make a salad on a toilet seat than it is to make one on a cutting board,” Dr. Charles Gerba, a microbiologist and professor at the University of Arizona in Tucson, told Today. (BTW: Do NOT make a salad on your toilet seat.)
Whether yours is wood, plastic or glass, you need to give it more than a quick wipe down after each use. If you have a wooden one, you should disinfect it with bleach and treat it with mineral oil. However, if you have a plastic one, you can pour boiling water over it or even toss it in the dishwasher to sanitize it. To avoid any and all cross-contamination, you can always get different cutting boards for your produce and raw meats.
Okay, even as a self-proclaimed germaphobe, the presence of contaminants on a traditional knife block surprised me — but when you think about it, it makes sense. If you don't clean your knives well enough, food particles and bacteria can collect inside each slot in your block. To clean it, you can shake it upside down over the sink to remove any crumbs and let it sit in hot, soapy water for a while. Then, let it dry out completely before placing your blades back inside.
However, if that sounds like too much of a chore (especially since you'll want to do it regularly), get rid of your old-school block and replace it with an easy-to-clean flat, magnetic one.
Plastic Food Containers
A true essential for every home chef for storing leftovers, meal prepping and more. Unfortunately, they can be a secret sanctuary for bacteria and pathogens. This is especially true for containers with a rubber seal. It's important to clean them really well — put them in the dishwasher if possible — and let them completely dry before closing them and tossing them back into the cupboard them away.
If you have any containers that are stained or worse for wear, you should probably go ahead and replace them. Oh, and if you'd like to steer clear of any potential BPA exposure, consider tosssing the plastic and investing in glass ones.
Coffee Maker Filter
If you have a coffeemaker that filters water, like a Keurig, you probably don't replace the filter enough. Come on, when was the last time you remembered to do it? That's what we thought. Give your coffeemaker a good clean according to its instructions, soak the water reservoir in hot, soapy water and replace the filter ASAP.
Things you should clean in your kitchen in 2024
You keep all of your food in your refrigerator, so, yeah, you want to keep it clean. You can use a fragrance-free dish soap, bleach or baking soda to clean the drawers and shelves — follow these steps for ensuring you hit every nook and cranny.
If you aren't already doing it, you should clean your kitchen sink daily. In fact, go a step further and clean it after every meal. Does that sound excessive? Well, try this factoid on for size: There's more E. coli in a kitchen sink than in a toilet after you flush it. The thing is, E. coli lives and grows in wet, moist environments like your sink, and bacteria feeds on the food left in there or shoved down the drain.
You may not think to clean your dishwasher because soap essentially goes into it every single day. However, if you're noticing that your dishes are not getting as clean as they usually do or if the machine's interior smells, it's time for a serious cleaning. You can watch this video from Home Depot on how to remove the filter and the spray arms to give them the deepest clean. However, there are also tablets you can use to get rid of limescale and mineral buildup to keep your machine in tip-top shape. They'll get at hard-to-reach places like the tub, the internal hoses and the pump and valve.
Salt and Pepper Shakers
Just think about all the hands that touch these — everyone in your whole household, plus friends and family that come over for a meal. Our advice: Empty your shakers and give them a good soak in hot, soapy water, and use a brush to scrub off any residue on the insides. Important: Make sure they're completely dry before refilling.
When was the last time you cleaned your can opener? Never? Well, do it now. According to a study by the University of Rochester, you should really clean it after each use. The cutting wheel on them often touches the food inside the can, and if it doesn't get washed properly, it can accumulate bacteria like E.coli and salmonella.
Here's how: Use a brush to remove any food particles from the wheel and wash it with hot water and soap. To give it a deep clean and disinfecting, let it sit in a bleach-water solution, then rinse and dry it off to prevent rust.
The reviews quoted above reflect the most recent versions at the time of publication.