Header graphic for print
Food Poison Journal Food Poisoning Outbreaks and Litigation: Surveillance and Analysis

E. coli, Listeria and Salmonella in your Kitchen

According to Food Safety Magazine, NSF International’s Applied Research Center (ARC) has released the 2013 NSF International Household Germ Study, revealing that many common kitchen items harbor unsafe levels of E. coli, Salmonella, Listeria, yeast and mold. NSF International scientists point to a number of contributing factors — including improper food storage, handling, preparation and cleaning — which may help explain why more than 20% of foodborne illness outbreaks result from food consumed in the home.

The NSF microbiologists conducting the germ study analyzed 14 common kitchen items for the presence of four different types of microorganisms: E. coli, Salmonella, yeast and mold, and Listeria. The study found that many of these common kitchen appliances and tools used to prepare food do indeed harbor pathogens that can cause foodborne illness:

• Refrigerator vegetable compartment: Salmonella, Listeria, yeast and mold

• Refrigerator meat compartment: Salmonella, E. coli, yeast and mold

• Blender gasket: Salmonella, E. coli, yeast and mold

• Can opener: Salmonella, E. coli, yeast and mold

• Rubber spatula: E. coli, yeast and mold

• Food storage container with rubber seal: Salmonella, yeast and mold

It is NSF’s hope that the information gained from this study will further underscore the importance of properly maintaining and cleaning these items, especially those that we don’t always think to disassemble and clean such as the blender gasket.

Perception vs. Reality: Are We Unknowingly Making Ourselves and Others Sick?

Importantly, while germ study volunteers correctly identified items that they thought would harbor the most germs, they are not always cleaning them sufficiently to prevent illness. The following is a list of the items that were perceived by volunteers to be the “germiest” versus the actual “germiest” items (ranked from highest to lowest in germ count):

Perceived:

1. Microwave keypad

2. Can opener

3. Refrigerator meat compartment

4. Refrigerator vegetable compartment

5. Flatware storage tray

6. Knife block

7. Pizza cutter

8. Rubber spatula

9. Refrigerator insulating seal

10. Ice dispenser

Reality:

1. Refrigerator water dispenser

2. Rubber spatula

3. Blender

4. Refrigerator vegetable compartment

5. Refrigerator ice dispenser

6. Refrigerator meat compartment

7. Knife block

8. Food storage container with rubber seal

9. Can opener

10. Refrigerator insulating seal

Germs found on these everyday kitchen appliances and tools can easily come in direct contact with food, especially raw produce, meat, poultry, seafood and ready-to-eat food. The study identified where the germs are located in the average home kitchen and, more importantly, how people can better protect against foodborne illness. The key is to be aware of where the ‘hot spots’ are in your home and clean correctly and regularly to help prevent germ accumulation.