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NSF Lists 5 “Germiest” Items in the Kitchen

Refrigerator's meat and vegetable compartments top the list

When people think of where germs lurk in the kitchen, the blender and can opener are not likely to be the first two places that come to mind. But these two cooking tools, along with the meat and vegetable trays in the refrigerator and rubber spatulas, top the list of the “germiest” items in the kitchen, according to a new study from NSF International.

After the group’s study revealed foodborne pathogens on numerous household kitchen appliances, NSF is advising consumers to carefully sanitize all items that come into contact with food or drinks to protect against food poisoning.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that 21 percent of the foodborne illness outbreaks that took place between 2009 and 2010 were linked to food cooked in the home, suggesting that reducing pathogens in the household is an important part of reducing foodborne illness.  

To figure out where kitchen germs dwell, researchers asked 20 families in Southeastern Michigan to swab 14 items in their homes. The swabs were then tested for three leading foodborne pathogens: E. coli, Salmonella and Listeria, as well as for yeast and mold.

Analysis of the samples revealed that yeast and mold were present on 100 percent of the items tested, which included blenders, spatulas, knife blocks, microwave keypads, can openers, pizza cutters, strainers, silverware storage trays and food containers with rubber seals. In the refrigerator, the meat and vegetable compartments were swabbed, along with the water and ice dispensers.

A full 36 percent of items tested positive for Salmonella, the second most common cause of foodborne illness in the U.S. after Norovirus. Salmonella was found in refrigerator meat and vegetable compartments, blender gaskets, on refrigerator ice and water dispensers and on the rubber seals on food storage containers.

E. coli was also present on a 36 percent of the swabbed items, including the meat compartment of the refrigerator, rubber spatula, blender gasket and pizza cutter.

Listeria monocytogenes was found on 14 percent of all items tested. The bacteria, which causes the second most deaths from foodborne illness after Salmonella and can be especially dangerous to pregnant woman and the elderly, was found on refrigerator vegetable compartments and the refrigerator door seal. Unlike Salmonella and E. coli, Listeria can grow at refrigerator temperatures.

The 2013 study of the “germiest” places in the kitchen was conducted as a follow-up to a 2011 NSF study of the “germiest” places in the household, after kitchen items (sponge and sink) won the top two spots on that list.

In light of its findings pointing to contamination of kitchen items, NSF published recommendations for consumers to keep these “germiest” items clean. The recommendations mainly include washing all of the items found to carry germs, either by hand or in the dishwasher depending on their makeup.

Visit NSF International’s website for a full list of these consumer recommendations. 

The executive summary of the study can be viewed here.

Editor’s note: This article was updated to reflect corrections made by NSF to the results of its germ study. While the article previously reported that 25 percent of items tested positive for Salmonella and 25 percent tested positive for E. coli, in actuality, 36 percent of items tested positive for Salmonella and 36 percent for E. coli. Also, 14 percent of items tested positive for Listeria, as opposed to the 10 percent previously reported. 

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