Spice Containers Are Probably the Dirtiest Items in Your Kitchen?

Image of spices spread out on counter - Getty
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Zann Gates and Linda J. Harris

Just in time for the holidays – a food safety reminder for all home cooks. FST’s Linda J. Harris, in a VeryWellHealth article by Stephanie Brown, “Spice Containers Are Probably the Dirtiest Items in Your Kitchen” recommends making a habit of washing your hands, moving potentially-contaminated items directly to the dishwasher or sink, and cleaning and sanitizing the counters as you cook.

Separating potentially-contaminated items from the foods you will eat is also important, Harris said. For example, since raw meat may contain disease-causing bacteria, use separate cutting boards for raw meat and cooked meats or fresh produce.

 So what’s this about dirty spice containers? The VeryWell health article mentions a November 2022 study in the Journal of Food Protection. The research team from North Carolina State University, Rutgers University and several government agencies gave 371 different consumers raw ground turkey patties inoculated with a non-pathogenic virus. These consumers prepared a meal in a test kitchen and then cross contamination was measured by looking for the virus on various commonly touched surfaces. Spice containers were contaminated 48% of the time compared to 20% or less of other common touch points (e.g., handles of knives, refrigerator door, pots, faucet).  

It is easy to get distracted when cooking. I increase my focus when I am handling foods that are more likely to be contaminated with pathogens such as raw meat and poultry. I pay attention to where the touch points might be, wash my hands more frequently, clean up as I go including moving cutting boards into the dishwasher along with other utensils, cleaning/sanitizing the countertop. By doing it as I go, I am more confident that I am not going to forget.” – Linda J. Harris

 You can find many other tips on food safety at UC Food Safety's Holiday Food Safety page.