Cross-contamination: Bacteria spinners: why spice racks in the kitchen should have had their day

Dealing too casually with cleanliness in the kitchen can make you ill.

Cross-contamination: Bacteria spinners: why spice racks in the kitchen should have had their day

Dealing too casually with cleanliness in the kitchen can make you ill. Particular caution should be exercised, especially after preparing raw meat and fish. Hands, used surfaces and utensils should be cleaned afterwards, otherwise pathogens can spread - which then spread further through cross-contamination. A research team has now investigated where most germs are found in the kitchen and found an unexpected hotspot.

One speaks of cross-contamination when bacteria and other microorganisms are transferred from food to food, from people to food or from utensils to food. This can happen, for example, if work utensils are used for both raw meat and food that has already been prepared, or if hands are not washed thoroughly in between. But the most dangerous place in the kitchen for cross-contamination is between oregano and cumin. US scientists have found that the spice rack is home to the most germs.

As part of a study, the research team had around 370 unsuspecting people cook a turkey burger. For the experiment, the scientists had previously contaminated the meat with the harmless bacterium MS2. The participants knew just as little about this as they did about the true research focus of the study, so that they did not adapt their cooking habits. The researchers then checked whether and, if so, where cross-contamination had occurred.

Microorganisms were plentiful, so many of the usual suspects were contaminated. "Knife handles, cutting boards, handles of frying pans and electrical appliances, inner surfaces of sinks, dishcloths and sponges, faucet handles, soap dispensers, refrigerator handles and trash can lids," counted Donald Schaffner, professor in the department of food science at Rutgers School of Environmental and Biological Sciences in New Jersey, who led the study, reports to The Telegraph.

The good news: the contamination was relatively small. Except for one outlier: spice jars. Accordingly, not only were almost half of the samples from the spice rack contaminated with the bacterium MS2, they were also the most heavily contaminated, according to Schaffner - even more than sinks or garbage can lids. "Consumers may not necessarily think about wiping down or decontaminating condiment containers after cooking," the study concludes. Spice containers tend not to be among the utensils that are warned of in the context of cross-contamination.

"If you handle a contaminated spice container and then accidentally put your finger in your mouth, it could lead to ingestion of pathogens and subsequent illness," explains Schaffner. The subjunctive is important here. Because it is not known how dangerous this cross-contamination on spice containers is to health and it is also a question of time. The microorganism does not survive forever on the surfaces, it gradually dies off. However, some contaminations can persist for a few weeks.

It is estimated that every fifth disease caused by food is acquired in the home. Salmonella, campylobacter, pathogenic E. coli, listeria - the list of pathogens that can be transmitted via cross-contamination is long. If you have caught such a pathogen, it can become uncomfortable. While some people get only mild symptoms, for others, an illness can be life-threatening.

Anthony Wilson, a microbiologist at Britain's Food Standards Agency, explained in The Telegraph which groups should pay extra attention to kitchen hygiene because they are more at risk of getting seriously ill: "Anyone can get food poisoning, but some people are at higher risk , such as pregnant women, young children, the elderly and people with weak immune systems."

Sources: Study, Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety, The Telegraph, The Guardian