(NEXSTAR) — Keeping your kitchen clean is essential, especially when working with raw meat, in order to avoid foodborne illnesses like salmonella or E. coli. And while you may think of surfaces like your garbage can or a dirty cutting board as a hot spot for spreading sickness, one unlikely kitchen item is even worse, new research shows.
The study, funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service and spearheaded by researchers with the Rutgers School of Environmental and Biological Sciences and North Carolina State University, sought to find the potential for cross-contamination on kitchen surfaces.
During the study, more than 370 adults were asked to cook identical turkey burger recipes in kitchens of various sizes from small apartments to teaching kitchens. The recipe included raw ground turkey patties with a seasoning recipe and a prepackaged salad.
Before the meals were prepared, researchers added a bacteriophage, a virus that only appears in bacteria cells, called “MS2” to act as a pathogen and allow them to trace the movement of microbes. Once the meals were completed, researchers swabbed utensils, cleaning surfaces, and other kitchen surfaces to find the MS2 tracer.
In a press release, researchers noted that after watching the participants, they also opted to swab surfaces of a new category, like spice containers and faucet handles.
One “unlikely culprit” was found to be more frequently contaminated than all the rest: spice containers.
“We were surprised because we had not seen evidence of spice container contamination before,” Donald Schaffner, a Distinguished Professor in the Department of Food Science at Rutgers said. “Most research on the cross-contamination of kitchen surfaces due to handling of raw meat or poultry products has focused on kitchen cutting boards or faucet handles and has neglected surfaces like spice containers, trash bin lids and other kitchen utensils.”
Overall, nearly half of the samples taken from spice containers showed evidence of MS2 contamination. Cutting boards and trash lids were found to be the second and third most contaminated, while faucet handles were the least contaminated.
Across most surfaces, the presence of MS2 was found in 20% or fewer of the samples taken.