Locations:
Search IconSearch

The Top Places Germs Are Lurking in Your Kitchen

Cross contamination is common in the kitchen

woman cutting raw meat on cutting board in kitchen

Did you know that about 9% of foodborne illness outbreaks occur in the home and it’s almost impossible to tell where the bacteria may live with the naked eye?

Advertisement

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

Research has identified the top kitchen items that are commonly cross-contaminated during the preparation of a meal (yuck!). Infectious disease specialist Susan Rehm, MD, outlines these top kitchen contaminators and how to make sure you don’t get sick.

1. Cloth towel

Like sponges, cloth towels were the most frequently contaminated article in the kitchen. How many times have you used a towel to wipe off the counter after cooking, washed your hands and then wiped your clean hands with that same towel? It happens more often than you think.

“One of the best ways to prevent cross contamination in the kitchen is to use paper towels,” says Dr. Rehm.

Research also shows that salmonella grows on cloths stored overnight, even after they were washed and rinsed in the sink. To minimize risk of contamination, either strictly use paper towels or use a new, clean cloth for each surface in your kitchen. Be sure to wash your towels with bleach or other disinfectants before using them again.

2. Smartphone or tablet

Just like if you take your phone to the bathroom with you, anything you touch in the kitchen following contact with raw meat can become contaminated. That includes your smartphone or tablet you use to follow a recipe or answer a call.

“Either don’t use it or clean it as frequently as you would wash your hands,” she says.

Consider covering your device with clear plastic or printing out the recipe so you don’t have to touch your device. If you don’t want to print it out, make sure to disinfect your phone afterwards.

To disinfect your phone, Dr. Rehm recommends following these steps:

  1. Take the case off and turn your phone or tablet off completely.
  2. Mist a gentle cleaning cloth with 70% isopropyl alcohol.
  3. Gently wipe down each corner of your phone or tablet.
  4. Wipe down your case and any phone accessories with the same solution.
  5. Let dry completely before turning your device on.

Never use harsh chemicals on your devices. Double-check with your phone brand on the proper way to disinfect their products so you don’t end up ruining your expensive tech.

3. Sink faucet, refrigerator, oven handle, trash container

When was the last time you disinfected your sink faucet, refrigerator, oven or trash can?

“During food prep, be aware that there are bacteria in food and touching it can spread it to other surfaces and potentially cause illness,” says Dr. Rehm. “Common bacteria found in the kitchen include E.colisalmonella, shigella, campylobacter, norovirus and hepatitis A.”

E.coli can survive for hours on a surface, salmonella can survive for about four hours and hepatitis A can survive for months. If those numbers make you nervous, lessen your chances of getting those germs by disinfecting each surface that bacteria could have come into contact with. And yes, that means wiping down or spraying each surface in your kitchen that you worked at just to be sure.

4. Cooking utensils

With so many different kitchen utensils, it’s important to be aware of how you use them, too.

Advertisement

“When you use tongs or a fork to put raw poultry on the grill, you should wash it immediately afterwards if you plan to use the same tools to serve the meal,” says Dr. Rehm.

Sanitize your utensils by hand-washing in hot, soapy water and sanitizing solution. Make sure to air-dry them completely before putting them away into the cupboard.

5. Hands

Believe it or not, it’s common for people to not wash their hands with the frequency or quality needed to reduce bacterial contamination.

“When preparing food, it’s wise to wash hands beforehand, frequently throughout, and afterwards,” says Dr. Rehm.

Each time you handle raw meat, wash your hands. Lather your hands with soap (don’t forget your nails, between your fingers and the back of your hands!) Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds and then use a paper towel to dry them and don’t reuse it. Throw the used paper towel away immediately after use.

6. Fruit and vegetables

Bacteria can be found on your favorite fruit and veggies.

If you’re not careful, that bacteria could cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Cleaning up is less effective than not contaminating it in the first place, so make it a habit to keep surfaces as clean as possible the first time to avoid cross contamination. ​

Advertisement

Learn more about our editorial process.

Related Articles

Person blowing nose, surrounded by medicines and home remedies
May 30, 2024/Primary Care
Why Do I Keep Getting Sick?

Stress and unhealthy habits can lead to more colds, but taking some precautions may help you stay well

Wet plastic loofah hanging on shower knob
April 2, 2024/Skin Care & Beauty
Is Your Loofah Full of Bacteria?

This puffy shower accessory can become lodged with skin cells (and other gross things), so make sure you dry it daily and clean it once a week

zoom in on denim
March 21, 2024/Skin Care & Beauty
How Often Should You Wash Jeans? Can You Freeze Them Instead?

Unfortunately, putting your jeans in the freezer doesn’t kill germs, and it definitely doesn’t get them clean

Shoe storage shelf home, including purses and bike helmets
February 14, 2024/Primary Care
Wearing Shoes in the House: ‘OK’ or ‘No Way’?

Leaving footwear on invites germs, bacteria, toxins and other unwanted guests into your home

Someone uses a wall-mounted jet dryer to dry their hands.
The Dirty Truth About Hand Dryers

Some dryers spread germs instead of removing them

Family members walk through falling snow to visit family over the holidays.
November 13, 2022/Primary Care
How To Celebrate Safely This Holiday Season

Wash your hands, skip the buffet and don’t wash your poultry

Using vodka to wash hands
May 19, 2022/Infectious Disease
Is It Safe To Use Vodka as a Hand Sanitizer?

The short answer from an infectious disease specialist

Mother drying her child with towel
January 15, 2019/Skin Care & Beauty
How Often Should You Wash Your (Germ Magnet of a) Bath Towel?

Don’t wipe away your clean with a dirty towel

Trending Topics

Female and friend jogging outside
How To Increase Your Metabolism for Weight Loss

Focus on your body’s metabolic set point by eating healthy foods, making exercise a part of your routine and reducing stress

stovetop with stainless steel cookware and glassware
5 Ways Forever Chemicals (PFAS) May Affect Your Health

PFAS chemicals may make life easier — but they aren’t always so easy on the human body

jar of rice water and brush, with rice scattered around table
Could Rice Water Be the Secret To Healthier Hair?

While there’s little risk in trying this hair care treatment, there isn’t much science to back up the claims

Ad