This Is the Germiest Thing in Your Kitchen Right Now

You'll be shocked to learn that it's not your garbage can or your sink that has the most germs in your kitchen.

We all know that our kitchens can be… well, germy. From prepping food on our cutting boards to tossing things in the trash and everything in between, there is the chance for cross-contamination everywhere we touch. But, while you might be thinking that the germiest thing in your kitchen is, say, the inside of your sink or maybe your kitchen towels, a new study reveals a far more surprising culprit. It’s actually your spice jars that are harboring the most significant amount of germs in your kitchen right now.

Why Do My Spice Jars Have So Many Germs?

Simply put, we’ve all been taught to wipe down our cutting boards and counters, but has anyone ever told you to wipe down your spice jars after using them? Probably not.

In the study, published in the Journal of Food Protection, researchers studied 371 adults cooking an identical turkey burger recipe in kitchens of various sizes, ranging from smaller apartment kitchens to teaching kitchens. They observed how people who prepared raw ground turkey burgers cross-contaminated various surfaces in a kitchen. By a large margin, the spice jars contained the most germs, with 48% showing evidence of contamination. Cutting boards and trash can lids harbored the second and third most germs. Faucet handles faced the least contamination.

The findings shocked researchers, according to Donald Schaffner, a food science professor at Rutgers University’s School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, who led the study. “We were surprised because we had not seen evidence of spice container contamination before,”  Schaffner told Food Safety News. Most research on kitchen cross-contamination “focused on kitchen cutting boards or faucet handles and has neglected surfaces like spice containers,” he said.

How Do I Keep My Spice Jars Germ Free?

Obviously, it’s important to wipe down your spice jars. But that’s not the whole story. According to Benjamin Chapman, department head of agricultural and human sciences at North Carolina State University, it’s also about hand washing during meal prep, not just when you begin cooking or finish up.

“We’ve tried to distill messages into things that are simple, like after handling meat, wash your hands,” Chapman told The Washington Post. “The more we look at what people actually do in the kitchen, we realize we have to be more prescriptive…when you’re done handling a turkey patty, you need to wash your hands before you grab that spice jar.”